Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Lawmakers seek ways around class-size rules

TALLAHASSEE — Florida voters in November rejected relaxing constitutionally mandated limits on class sizes. So state lawmakers have taken matters into their own hands.

Tucked in the House and Senate budget plans is a provision tweaking the definition of the educational core curriculum, a move that would reduce by hundreds the number of courses under class-size restrictions.

The change is welcome news for cash-strapped school districts desperate for looser — read less expensive — class-size caps. But it has irked some Democrats and teachers who pushed through the 2002 constitutional amendment for smaller classes.

Steep cuts loom for school districts as both legislative chambers prepare to slash per-student spending and funding for programs outside the classroom.

The Pinellas County school district is focused on slicing $60 million from its budget next year, although projections range from $34 million to $86 million. The district has cut $120 million over the past five years.

Hillsborough officials, meanwhile, have cut $124.5 million from their budget over the last four years to build up reserves and prepare for the day federal stimulus money runs out. But now the district is looking at a gap of more than $100 million in its $1.7 billion operating fund under Gov. Rick Scott's budget proposal, and officials say they may have to cut programs unless the Legislature increases funding.

Hillsborough County managed to comply with the final stage of the class-size amendment this school year, after spending around $1.5 billion in state money and hiring the equivalent of more than 4,000 teachers since 2003.

But several schools are filled to capacity.

The voter-approved amendment went into full force this school year. It limits the number of students to 18 for kindergarten through third-grade classes, 22 for fourth through eighth grade and 25 for high school.

The caps apply only to core courses and not to classes like physical education, band and those offered online through the Florida Virtual School. Legislators are considering excluding more classes previously considered part of the core.

The state Department of Education counted 849 core courses this school year. That number would shrink to 288 under the new proposal.

The only core classes for pre-kindergarten through third grade would be in language arts, math and science — as the rules stand now. The bulk of the changes would affect fourth through 12th grades, where only classes tested by state exams or classes required by state law to graduate from high school would be taken into account.

In all grades, special education courses and classes for English-language learners would continue to be part of the core curriculum and thus subject to class-size limits.

But foreign language classes and honors and advanced courses, for example, no longer would be.

"It would mean that the classes could grow exponentially in those areas," said Sen. Nan Rich, a Weston Democrat and Senate minority leader.

Sen. David Simmons, the Altamonte Springs Republican in charge of his chamber's pre-K-12 education budget, said the affected courses "by any stretch of the imagination could not be considered core curricula."

The Florida Education Association, the statewide teachers union, does not see it that way.

Union spokesman Mark Pudlow called the curriculum change a "cost-saving move" and not good policy for students. "They're going to pack them in like a sardine can," he said.

The union does back a portion of the class-size provision that would allow schools to temporarily have three to five more students per class. Those additional students would only be accepted after October, when schools carry out their class-size counts. And schools would have to present a plan to be in compliance with the mandates by the following October.

If approved, the measure would likely spur a legal challenge from those who sought to limit the size of classes, a House staff analysis warns.

But the Florida PTA and school districts that have supported small class sizes have still pleaded for relief.

"We have been begging for flexibility for years because the mandate is much too rigid to handle logistically," said Georgia Slack, a lobbyist for the Broward school district.

Thirty-five of the state's 67 districts fell short of meeting the requirements last fall and now face hefty fines totaling about $31 million. Tampa Bay districts — Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando — have all met the requirements.

Separately, lawmakers have filed legislation to do away with the penalties.

Times staff writer Tom Marshall contributed to this report. Patricia Mazzei can be reached at [email protected]

Lawmakers seek ways around class-size rules 03/31/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 31, 2011 10:21pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Florida woman weighing 325 pounds charged with killing girl by sitting on her

    Crime

    PENSACOLA — A 325-pound (150-kilogram) Florida woman is charged with killing her 9-year-old cousin by sitting on the child as punishment.

    This Oct. 14, 2017 photo made available by the Escambia County Sheriff's Office, Fla., shows Veronica Green Posey under arrest. Posey is charged with killing her 9-year-old cousin by sitting on the child as punishment. Posey, who weighs 325 pounds, first punished the girl with a ruler and metal pipe before sitting on her for at least 10 minutes. [Escambia County Sheriff's Office via AP]
  2. Girl, 8, got on 'tippy toes' to peer over cruise ship railing, then fell to her death

    Accidents

    MIAMI — A family cruise to paradise turned into a nightmare on Saturday, when an 8-year-old tumbled over the inner railings of a ship and fell to her death.

    Friends and family mourn Zion Smith, the 8-year-old girl who fell to her death aboard a Carnival cruise in Miami this weekend. [Image from Facebook]
  3. Bucs Cannon Fodder podcast: Looking back at what went wrong

    Bucs

    In his latest Cannon Fodder podcast, Greg Auman says Monday brought good news relating to Jameis Winston's shoulder injury.

    A frustrated Mike Evans sits on the bench during the second half of the Bucs' loss to the Cardinals Sunday in Arizona. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  4. Syrian commander says Raqqa has been captured from militants

    World

    BEIRUT — U.S.-backed Syrian forces liberated the city of Raqqa on Tuesday from Islamic State militants, a senior commander said, in a major defeat for the collapsing extremist group that had proclaimed it to be the capital of its "caliphate."

    This frame grab from video released Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017 and provided by Furat FM, a Syrian Kurdish activist-run media group, shows Syrian Islamic State group fighters who surrendered entering a base of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in Raqqa, Syria. A spokesman for the SDF in Syria says it will be in control of the northern city of Raqqa "within a few days" after attacking the last pocket held by the Islamic State group. SDF fighters launched an operation to retake the last IS-held pocket of Raqqa after some 275 militants and their family members surrendered. [Furat FM via AP]
  5. Drug czar nominee Marino withdraws name amid report he weakened DEA

    National

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Tuesday that his nominee to be the nation's drug czar is withdrawing from consideration for the job.

    U.S. Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., left, sponsored the law that weakened the DEA's enforcement abilities. Seen with Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., in 2015, Marino is nominated to be the nation's drug czar. [Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg]