Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

New law's unintended consequences let school districts avoid toughest class-size rules

A recent change to Florida law is doing something lawmakers say they never intended: allowing school districts to skirt the toughest rules of the state's class-size amendment.

The new law lets districts do something voters rejected twice — calculate class size using schoolwide averages rather than classroom counts. They simply must designate campuses as "public schools of choice" to qualify.

And that's what Pasco County has done — for its whole district.

"Ninety five percent of our schools are schools of choice, because we have kids opting in," spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said, referring to a plan that lets students attend schools they aren't zoned for, if space is available.

This year, Pasco schools had 2,274 students transfer in from another campus. It also deemed 23 schools "frozen" to choice because they had no available space. All were put forth as schools of choice.

"We feel confident they meet the definition in law," Cobbe said.

Backers of the 2002 amendment to reduce class sizes aren't so sure.

"It seems to me there are serious constitutional questions raised by any statute which purports to relieve the school districts from meeting the targeted numbers that are expressed in the Constitution," Ron Meyer, a lawyer for the Florida Education Association, said Friday.

Pasco district leaders didn't think they would meet the class-size requirements this year. In fact, they budgeted nearly $214,000 for the fines they expected to pay for falling short.

They changed their tune after learning about the new law in an Oct. 4 Department of Education memo. They used it to help determine that all schools met the limits in the state's October student count.

Districts were required to document their "schools of choice" by Oct. 11. Florida Department of Education officials said they did not yet know how many districts used the same methodology that Pasco employed.

Pinellas, Hillsborough and Hernando officials said they used classroom counts.

Senate Education Committee Chairman John Legg, a Pasco County Republican, said his office has received reports of districts using what he considered an unintended consequence of the spring session.

The concept initially arose as part of Sen. Bill Montford's proposal to let school districts create their own charter schools. The rationale was that districts would have an easier time implementing the new program without class-size restrictions, which already are at the schoolwide average for charter schools.

"This was not an effort … to undo the class-size amendment by coming in the back door," said Montford, who also heads the state superintendents association. "However, at the same time, what we have to do is give school districts the flexibility to do what is best for their students."

Portions of Montford's bill were merged into a different proposal that made it into law.

Legg contended that allowing districts to deem all their campuses "schools of choice" to get around the amendment, which most superintendents fought to scale back, was not the point. He suggested a legislative tweak could come in the 2014 session.

"If school districts are following the letter of the law, they're following the letter of the law," Legg said. "We want to provide the flexibility they requested, not the loophole that was granted."

The FEA argued that if the Legislature had intended to give districts blanket permission to slip past the class-size rules, it had its chance and passed by killing other related bills.

"The people of Florida enacted a constitutional amendment," Meyer said. "Instead of figuring out how to do that, we tend to spend an awful lot of energy figuring out how to get around it."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at jsolochek@tampabay.com or on Twitter @jeffsolochek.

New law's unintended consequences let school districts avoid toughest class-size rules 10/25/13 [Last modified: Friday, October 25, 2013 8:23pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Trump to skip Kennedy Center Honors awards program

    Politics

    BRIDGEWATER, N.J. — Acknowledging that he has become a "political distraction," President Donald Trump has decided to skip the festivities surrounding the annual Kennedy Center Honors arts awards later this year, the White House announced Saturday amid the continuing fallout over Trump's stance on last weekend's …

  2. Bucs' annual Women of RED preseason party attracts nearly 2,000

    Bucs

    TAMPA — Theresa Jones is primarily a college football fan, but she wanted to get a taste of the Bucs. So the 46-year-old Tampa resident bought a ticket for the team's Women of RED Ultimate Football Party at Raymond James Stadium on Friday.

    Lee White of Seminole tries on a helmet at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. on Friday, August 18, 2017.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers female fans descended upon Raymond James Stadium for the ultimate football party, the 2017 Women of RED: The Takeover, supported by Moffitt Cancer Center. CHARLIE KAIJO   |   Times

  3. Bucs' Ali Marpet: Move to center could pay off big

    Bucs

    TAMPA — No player works as closely with Jameis Winston as the center. Only those two touch the ball on every play. Together they make — if you will — snap judgements about defensive alignments.

     Jameis Winston #3 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Ali Marpet #74 warm up prior to preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on August 17, 2017 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) 700069805
  4. Inside the Rays continuing historically bad slump

    Blogs

    The numbers tell the story of the Rays inexplicable ongoing offensive slump, and the words detail how tough it has been to deal with.

  5. How Rays' Chris Archer is branching out on Twitter

    The Heater

    Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Chris Archer (22) leans on the railing of the dugout during the All-Star game at Marlins Park in Miami, Fla. on Tuesday, July 11, 2017. WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times