Two leading Republican lawmakers on Tuesday unveiled their proposed constitutional amendment to freeze class size counts at the school level -- saying it is the best way to balance the state's budget realities with parents' and teachers' desire for small classes in grade K-12.
"When it comes to schools, having small classes is important," said Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, who voted in 2002 for the original class size amendment. "That seemed like a good idea at the time. But sometimes there are unintended consequences. And now is the time that we right size the class size. There are some people who want to do away with the amendment. That's not what we want. What we want to do is prvide the flexibility that is needed to make class size work. And we have to act now, because there is no next year on this issue."
The 2002 amendment requires that come fall 2010, class size counts are done at the class level -- not the school level, as is currently required. The proposed amendment by Weatherford and Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, would keep the counts at the school level. Even with the school-wide average, classes would still have to stay within three students of the maximum allowed. That would prevent schools from having 12 students in one class and 24 in another, for example.
Gaetz estimates the proposed fix would save the state anywhere from $350 million to $2 billion.
"Floridians have already spent more than $15- billion to implement the class size amendment," Gaetz said. "But this is not a money issue for me. If we don't act this session, every classroom in every school in florida will be hstage to a hard cap, an inflexible formula."
He warned of massive busing, portable classrooms and other logistical problems if voters don't "right size the class size amendment."
Gaetz and Weatherford held a press conference with parents and educators from across the state -- including Hillsborough Schools superintendent MaryEllen Elia -- in the Capitol this morning to announce the "Right Size Class Size 2010" proposal.
Rocky Hanna, principal at Leon High in Tallahassee, said that if the class size fix isn't passed, he will be forced to turn students away from electives and even advanced placement classes that earn them college credits.
"I don't know one secondary school principal that isn't fearing for their life right now," Hannah said. "It is scary."
It will take a three-fifths vote of the Legislature to put the proposal on the 2010 ballot. It already has the endorsement of Gov. Charlie Crist, former education commissioner, who included the class size tweak as part of the proposed $22.7 billion education budget he released last week.
Weatherford said the state has done its part to reduce class size, with averages going down at all grade levels. And there are 825,000 seats available statewide.
"The problem is not that we don't have room," he said. "The problem is, they're not all in the right places. There is an inflexibility now, and this proposal will remedy that."