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Aid lets Hernando reduce class size

For months, school officials have warned that their tight budget might make it tough to pay for enough new teachers to keep class sizes from growing.

There's still a chance that class sizes will get larger. But the effort to hold the line is getting a boost from $543,000 in federal money to pay for 14 Hernando teachers for the early grades.

The money is a remnant of the program created by former President Bill Clinton to add 100,000 teachers to the nation's classrooms over a seven-year period. Nationwide, about 37,000 teachers have been hired in the program's first three years.

Hernando received about $428,000 last year from the program, or enough cash to pay for 10 teachers.

Federal law says the teachers hired with the money must work in kindergarten, first-, second- or third-grade classrooms. Research seems to indicate small classes have the greatest impact on younger children.

Diane Dannemiller, who supervises federal programs for the school district, said it ranked its elementary schools in order from highest class-size ratios to lowest in determining where the money should go.

As a result, eight of Hernando's 10 elementary schools _ Brooksville and Chocachatti are the exceptions _ will receive teachers this year to bring down class sizes.

Practically speaking, the federal money will enable class sizes to hold at 20 students to one teacher in first grade and reach no more than 21-to-1 in kindergarten, said Edd Poore, director of human resources and staff development for the district.

That kindergarten ratio, if it reaches 21-to-1, would still be higher than last year's. But without the federal money, kindergarten classes might have reached 22 or 23 to one, Poore said.

"Researchers with the U.S. Department of Education have concluded that class-size reduction in the early grades is a very direct and effective way to increase student achievement," said U.S. Rep. Karen Thurman, D-Dunellon. "We need to keep working to achieve this important goal."

Overall, Florida schools will receive $70-million in federal aid to reduce class sizes. School districts can also spend the money to train and hire new teachers.