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Teachers union challenges amendment on class size

TALLAHASSEE — A proposed ballot amendment to ease Florida's class-size requirements was challenged in court Wednesday by the state's largest teachers union.

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The Florida Education Association argued the summary that will appear on the November ballot doesn't fully explain Amendment 8's effect. It tells voters that the class-size caps will change, the union's lawyers said, but it doesn't explain how that change likely will reduce money to schools.

"That change inescapably changes the funding," said Ron Meyer, a lawyer for the union. "The voter doesn't see that. The voter doesn't know that. The voter shouldn't guess at that."

A lawyer for the state Attorney General's Office, which is defending the amendment, said it is clear to voters that the new caps would save money.

"If you're trying to reach a cap of 18 and then the cap is raised to 21, it is patently obvious that it's going to cost less money," said Jonathan Glogau, whose office is representing the Department of State.

Circuit Court Judge Charles Francis did not issue a ruling Wednesday, but said he hopes to have one by the end of the week. If Francis rules against the amendment, it would be the fourth ballot measure that was written by the Legislature then invalidated by the courts.

Amendment 8, passed in the 2010 session, would tweak the 2002 constitutional amendment that imposed maximum class sizes of 18 students in kindergarten to third grade, 22 students in Grades 4 to 8, and 25 students for high school.

If approved by 60 percent of Florida voters, Amendment 8 would calculate those caps at a schoolwide average, so individual classes could exceed the average by three students.

Some lawmakers argued that the state has spent nearly $20 billion to implement the 2002 class-size amendment, while Amendment 8 could save the state between $350 million and $2 billion.

The legal argument comes as school districts across Florida are scurrying to meet the final requirements of the 2002 amendment. Districts have until mid October to meet the standards or they could be fined.

To meet the caps, some schools are putting PE coaches or library assistants into classrooms. Some jam-packed schools are telling parents that they must use school choice to enroll their children elsewhere. Students have had their schedules readjusted to ensure they aren't in a classroom with too many students.

Lynette Estrada, a special education teacher at Royal Green Elementary in Miami, is the resident challenging the amendment on behalf of the union. She acknowledged that the new caps have caused districts to "be creative," but said the state has not given schools enough money to adjust.

Times staff writer Jeffrey S. Solochek contributed to this report. Lee Logan can be reached at llogan@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Teachers union challenges amendment on class size 09/08/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 8, 2010 9:03pm]
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