1. Gradebook

Florida class size violations continue to dwindle

A growing number of schools rely on averages rather than classroom counts.
Kindergarten teacher Melissa Pizzo's 2012 class brimmed over the state cap, at 20 students.  [Times | 2012]
Kindergarten teacher Melissa Pizzo's 2012 class brimmed over the state cap, at 20 students. [Times | 2012]
Published Jan. 18, 2018

A shrinking number of Florida schools were in violation of the state's 2002 class size amendment in the fall, reflective of a growing dependence on schoolwide averages rather than classroom counts.

The Florida Department of Education reported that 153 of 49,287 traditional public school classrooms, none of 6 lab schools, 13 of 639 charter schools, and 14 out of 2,715 district-operated schools of choice did not meet the constitutional class size requirements of no more than 18 students in grades K-3, 22 students in grades 4-8, and 25 students in grades 9-12.

A year earlier, the department reported  1,433 of 125,159 traditional public school classrooms, 1 out of 6 lab schools, 47 of 649 charter schools and 10 of 2,331 district-operated schools of choice were not in compliance with the voter mandate.

Note the major reduction of "traditional" public school classrooms and the concurrent rise in "schools of choice" in those figures. That's where a big key lies to the decrease in violations.

Lawmakers added a provision to law in 2013 by which "schools of choice" could avoid the strictest part of the amendment by using averages, much like charter schools do. The idea was supposed to allow districts to create their own charter schools and have some flexibility in their operations.

The upshot, however, was a major shift among most districts toward calling all of their schools "of choice," reasoning that every one of them had at least one student enrolled who does not live within its attendance zone.

Lawmakers discussed repealing or amending the loophole in 2015 and 2016, but never took action. The use of the provision has become so widespread, that at least one Constitution Revision Commission member has recommended simply converting all the caps to schoolwide averages, using the financial savings (if any) to boost teacher pay.

Voters have rejected that idea in the past though, and have frequently criticized districts for abusing the amendment they insist works when used properly.