Florida lawmakers approved legislation Tuesday that drastically limits how many classes have to meet the state’s class size requirements.
Under the proposal tucked into the education budget agreement approved last week, foreign language classes, Advanced Placement courses, and certain social studies courses which now fall under class size restrictions, would be exempt.
The legislation – in an education budget conforming bill passed Friday – also gives schools the ability to exceed those caps by no more than three students in kindergarten through grade three, and five students above the caps in grades four through twelve, so long as the school board works out a plan to have those classes in compliance within one year.
“I don’t understand how a requirement for a kid to get into college cannot be considered a core class,” said Florida Education Association President Andy Ford. “This is just way to circumvent the will of voters.”
The Legislature is redefining what constitutes a “core curriculum” class, thereby reducing the number of classes that have to meet class size requirements from 849 to 304. The move is largely supported by school district officials, who say they have struggled to meet the stringent requirements and have faced huge fines as a result.
“I supported that bill because it gives the school districts more flexibility,” said Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, head of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. “It is a much wiser use of the money. (Before) it was so rigid you were literally forced to make decisions that were not academically sound.”
It’s a major change to Florida’s class size requirements, approved by Florida voters in 2002. Under that constitutional amendment, pre-kindergarten through third grade classes cannot exceed 18, grades 4 through 8 cannot exceed 22 and high school grades cannot exceed 25 students.
A proposal to loosen class-size requirements failed last year after it didn’t get the needed 60 percent vote to change the state constitution.
Supporters of class-size limits say they boost classroom quality.
Many teachers feel that the class-size limits help with job security. Schools sometimes have to hire new teachers or face fines whenever they can’t meet class size requirements due to growing enrollment.
The effort to loosen class-size requirements in the Legislature has drawn criticism from some lawmakers.
Rep. Cynthia Stafford, D-Miami, said the proposal will decrease the number of classes that have to meet class-size requirements by two-thirds. “This is a backdoor way for non-compliance, which will erode the purpose of the mandate and render it basically null and void,” Stafford said in a statement.
Still, school districts have quietly supported the measure. Florida School Boards Association Executive Director Wayne Blanton said they are supportive of the changes as did several school district lobbyists.
“It really tries to focus class sizes where they were intended,” said school lobbyist Vernon Pickup-Crawford.
By Lilly Rockwell