As they fill out their ballots, voters should pause before reflexively making their decision on a commonsense amendment to ease class size limits. Amendment 8 would relax — ever so slightly — the 2002 voter mandate for smaller public school class sizes to make it more workable and rational. It could save up to $1 billion a year for other needs. Opponents have capitalized on a trio of myths to scare voters and try to defeat the amendment. But here are the facts:
Amendment 8 would not re-peal the class-size measure.
The class size cap of 18 students in kindergarten through third grade, 22 in fourth through eighth grades and 25 in high school would remain in the state Constitution. But what would change is the methodology for determining compliance.
Individual schools would be in compliance if the average size of all their classes met the cap. That's a step removed from what happened this fall, when the class size amendment required every classroom to meet the cap. Such rigid caps proved to be a logistical nightmare as schools have been reassigning teachers and students to different classes to ensure they are in compliance.
Amendment 8 would not mean a return to huge classes.
Amendment 8 would retain the class-size gains through last year and provide new safeguards to ensure returning to a schoolwide average won't create haves and have-nots in a single school. No single class could grow beyond 21 students in kindergarten through third grade; 27 in fourth through eighth grade; or 30 in high school. And those larger classes would have to be offset with smaller classes so the school could still meet the lower schoolwide averages.
The change would make the class size amendment far more workable. Principals would have the flexibility to play to teachers' strengths and students' needs. Administrators could better deploy teachers who are capable of handling larger classes or who offer particularly popular ones. This would free resources to provide additional offerings for everyone from gifted students to those who struggle.
Amendment 8 would not steal money from education.
The Legislature still would be required to provide adequate funds to meet the class size standards. But making those requirements slightly less stringent is expected to save from $360 million to $1 billion annually — money that could be better spent to improve student learning.
Research, including a recent Harvard University study of Florida, has repeatedly indicated class size has a negligible impact on students' performance beyond the earliest grades. More significant, research shows, is teacher quality. A slight loosening of class size rules would free up money for far more effective reforms — be it providing merit pay for teachers, additional student tutoring or improved course offerings.
Voters approved the 2002 class size limits out of frustration that the Legislature was neglecting public schools. Class sizes are smaller now. But the limits are doing more harm than good. Amendment 8 would keep reasonable class size limits and help put the focus on student learning, not just the number of kids in a classroom.