[UPDATE] No Elbow Room? Class Size Changes Coming Next Year

By: Lilly Rockwell, The News Service of Florida; AP
By: Lilly Rockwell, The News Service of Florida; AP

[UPDATE] 5-12 Noon - TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) --

Florida's school districts still are facing $7.7 million in penalties for violating current class size limits although lawmakers loosened them for the future.

The executive director of the Florida School Boards Association
said Thursday that most and maybe all districts will meet the new
standards.

Wayne Blanton said that as a result the association may
reconsider its plans to sue over the penalties.

A bill awaiting action by Gov. Rick Scott would revise the
limits, but it also approves the penalties calculated by Education
Commissioner Eric Smith after most districts appealed.

About $4 million of the penalties was chalked up by the Palm Beach County School District, which did not appeal.

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[UPDATE] 5-12 8:53pm

Based on an examination of class size studies, a Washington D.C. –based think tank concluded in a report released Wednesday that smaller class sizes do yield better student achievement. The Brookings Brown Center on Education said very large class size reductions, of between seven to 10 students, can have “significant long-term effects on student achievement.” But the study cautioned that conclusions are tentative because of the small number of high-quality studies. The biggest study of class sizes was done in Tennessee in the 1980s. The report said the positive effects of smaller classes “seem to be largest when introduced in the earliest grades, and for students from less advantaged family backgrounds.” The report noted that many states are considering loosening their class size restrictions due to less available money for schools. A reduction of the pupil-to-teacher ratio by one student would save $12 billion a year in teacher salary costs, the report notes. “Class-size mandates must still be considered in the context of alternative uses of tax dollars for education,” according to the report, and class size restrictions are the “least cost effective” of a number of possible educational interventions.

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THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, May 9, 2011 -

Florida lawmakers approved legislation 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.


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