Florida voters will get the opportunity in November to reconsider the 2002 class size amendment, which currently limits class size to 18 in pre-k through third grade, 22 in fourth through eighth grades and 25 in grades nine through 12.
The referendum, which requires approval by 60 percent of voters, would freeze the class size amendment at the school average rather than going to classroom counts, and increase the maximum class size limit by three students in pre-k through third grade and five in other grades.
Sen. Don Gaetz, R- Niceville, sponsored the resolution to put the matter back on the ballot. He spoke with St. Petersburg Times Staff Writer Jeffrey S. Solochek about the effort to change the amendment.
What is the plan to address the issue with the voters?
I think the responsibility to bring the case for right-sizing class size belongs to those who brought the issue to Rep. [Will] Weatherford and me, and that's the School Boards Association, the Association of District School Superintendents, the Florida Association of School Administrators, and teachers and parent leaders. … I'll be happy to go anywhere in my district and answer any questions about the class-size modifications. But if there is to be a statewide campaign, it needs to be developed by the people who brought the issue to us.
School districts have shown a lot of concern about this issue. But wasn't there a bill passed that prohibits school districts from campaigning?
No. There was a bill that Sen. [Charlie] Justice sponsored and I co-sponsored last year that said taxpayer dollars cannot be used to buy political advertising. But there's no bill to say a School Board member or a superintendent or a teacher or a parent can't speak out on an issue or contribute money in support of a cause or organize a meeting.
I understand that you have made it so the count doesn't have to take place until February to give the vote a chance to take place.
What happens if the vote doesn't get 60 percent approval? Then how is the state going to be able to make the next phase of the class size amendment happen?
I think that's a great question. I don't want to give anybody any ideas, but if there's no modification of the class size amendment, if there's no small bit of flexibility in local control provided, it would seem to me that school districts will live in fear of the 19th student showing up in a neighborhood and that causing either disruption or a lawsuit.
To read more, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.