Florida House Tentatively OKs Freezing Class Size

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Smaller classes are now required at the county level, but not at individual schools. The GOP-controlled Legislature wants to keep it that way.

Rep. Dennis Baxley, (R) Ocala, says, "We are totally obsessed with how many people are in a room to the exclusion of every other issue, including the most important issue, the teacher."

A constitutional amendment given tentative approval by the state House would ask voters to freeze class sizes at the district level. The carrot in the legislation is a guaranteed $35,000 starting salary for teachers.

Rep. Dan Gelber, (D) Miami, says, "Why don’t we just treat teachers’ salaries and classroom overcrowding with the same import we teach any special interest tax break we get?"

A final House vote is set for next week.

Support for repealing the class size amendment is weaker in the Senate, but if it gets on the ballot, voters are likely to see four amendments asking them to undo what they have already done.

In addition to changing class sizes, voters will be asked to lengthen lawmaker’ terms and make it harder to change the Constitution.

Rep. Don Brown, (R) DeFuniak Springs, says, "There may be a backlash, but that’s what this process is all about: people getting to interface with their government. We are going to give them an opportunity to make some choices."

Lawmakers also have a plan to delay by a year a requirement for smaller classes at the school level that wouldn’t happen until after voters speak on the overall class size amendment.

Gov. Bush wants an early vote on the class size repeal, perhaps as early as September of this year, but he doesn’t have enough votes in the Legislature to make that happen.

If the plan is approved by the Legislature, it will most likely appear on the ballot in November of 2006.