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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Legislature seeks to gut class size amendment

Here is a crazy idea, properly fund it. -cpg

From the St. petersburg Times Grade Book

by Jeff Solocheck

Efforts continue to give Florida school districts more flexibility in implementing the 2002 class size amendment. And the move is gaining support among former opponents.

Sen. David Simmons, chairman of the Senate Pre-K-12 Appropriations Subcommittee, began work on a bill that would make it easier for schools to deal with daily fluctuations of students shortly after voters narrowly defeated a ballot measure to ease the restrictions. His effort mirrors a proposal he made in 2008 while still a member of the Florida House.

The draft (found at the end of this committee packet) deals with some of the key concerns raised by schools, but also by opponents of the November ballot initiative. Ron Meyer, a key education lawyer in Tallahassee, has discussed the proposal with lawmakers but still has misgivings about its constitutionality.

Perhaps the biggest concern raised over time is the arrival of the "19th student" — a child who enrolls after the school has met its class size limit and has no more space. The bill would allow a school to place that student in a class that is at the limit, with a maximum of three to five over (depending on grade level), but only temporarily while the school board finds a solution that does not disrupt student learning.

For students who already were in the school by the October annual count, the class size rules would not be bent. The school must be in compliance by the next October survey.

This latest iteration began to win converts. Sen. Paula Dockery of Lakeland, one of the Republicans who opposed going against the will of the voters, said she found the draft to meet the spirit of the original class size amendment while still giving schools needed flexibility for daily operations. Sen. Nancy Detert, a Venice Republican who has gone back and forth on the issue, also voiced her backing while calling for changes in the fines for failing to miss class size.

The appropriations subcommittee did not vote on the bill, which remains in draft. So far, there is no similar bill in the House. In past years, though, the House has supported all efforts to ease back on class size rules while the Senate has been the sticking point. So it's likely that this measure could see it through.

If passed, the next question would be its constitutionality, if someone decides to challenge. Stay tuned.

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