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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Florida Senate ponders class size issues in K-12 plans

11

March

 As lawmakers in Tallahassee push a proposed constitutional amendment that would freeze class size counts at the schoolwide level, school principals across the state are planning for the 2010-11 school year based on the 2003 constitutional amendment that says class size has to be calculated class by class in each school.

Yet if the proposed class size amendment is approved by voters in November, what should Florida schools do? And will they be penalized for failing to meet the class-by-class standards between August and November, even though the Florida Department of Education knows adoption of the amendment could render any "violations" moot?

The Senate K-12 committee is working on a proposal to address those questions and school-year planning uncertainties. Committee chairman Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, said Thursday morning that one option being considered is to require that schools on day one of the new school year meet the class-by-class standards that were laid out in the 2003 amendment.

"To do it any other way, we run into a real problem," Wise said. "The middle of the year becomes a nightmare if we try to change midstream. Everybody agreed that it would be best to meet the requirement of the constitutional amendment on the first day of school. And if the (new) amendment passes we will then readjust for the following school year."

Wise also is floating a proposal to sanction schools that exceed the class-by-class sizes by taking away schools' per-student funding for each extra student in the class. He said schools could avoid the penalty by avoiding extra students in virtual classes.

The "how to count class size" conundrum comes amid higher enrollment projections for the coming school year: an estimate of 19,763 additional students, higher growth than what was anticipated just a few months ago. And a 180-degree turn from the past estimates of school enrollment drops.

"Last year we were talking about a 10,000-student loss, and now we're talking about a 19,000 increase," Wise said. "That's a big change."

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[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 1:28pm]

    

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