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Class size confusion may need Supreme Court look

The Florida Supreme Court could be called in to help state officials answer some questions about the class size caps voters approved this month.

Gov. Jeb Bush and lawmakers want to avoid drafting a plan to comply with the amendment, only to see it rejected by a judge. The amendment itself offers no direction on how to reduce class size, just deadlines for when to do it.

"The more I probe into this, the more questions I get, not answers," Bush said Wednesday during a meeting with state educators.

Bush called the meeting to figure out what the amendment requires and how much flexibility it provides. Some questions can be answered without judicial help, but others could use a court's judgment, he said.

A big question is whether the amendment allows teacher aides and reading specialists to count toward reducing class sizes. If only certified teachers count, that would increase the cost of implementing the amendment.

And what happens if a classroom is at its limit and another child moves into the neighborhood? Will that student have to be bused across town? And what exactly is meant by average class size?

"We've got to decide how we're going to count them, when we're going to count them and how we're going to define what "is' is," said Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan.

Bush said the state may have to formally ask the state Supreme Court to answer some of these questions. He wants most of them answered in the next 45 days so his office can begin working with the Legislature on the necessary legislation.

Another concern is whether special education classes will grow in size to lower overall class sizes, which could violate federal law.

And in creating smaller class sizes, Bush said, he doesn't want money siphoned from teacher salaries at a time when the state is facing a teacher shortage.

By next fall, class sizes must shrink by an average of two students. That doesn't give school districts time to build schools that weren't not already planned, so some schools will have to use portable classrooms.

But school districts already are working against another deadline: They have one year to eliminate or update some 18,000 portables.

"This first year is a real dilemma," Bush said.