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Hard Choices Ahead for Florida over Class Size Limits

A majority of Florida's voters in last Tuesday's election favored easing the state's class-size limits, but it wasn't enough. A proposed amendment to the state's constitution failed to muster the necessary 60 percent vote to win approval, and this will leave state and local officials with some tough decisions, going forward.

Floridians originally approved the class-size limits back in 2002, and they've been popular among teachers and, as the election tallies suggest, among the state's voters. The measure on last Tuesday's ballot—Amendment 8—would have relaxed the mandate, which is scheduled to become tougher this year.

Many of the state's superintendents had hoped to ease the class-size caps. Those rules have posed a major challenge to districts around the state, which have made it difficult in some school systems for students to take the classes they need, and have reportedly forced districts to use teachers to lead classes outside their subject areas. (For a summary of the opposition's main arguments, check out former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's op-ed on the topic.)

Districts that do not comply with the class-size limits face penalties. And now, many local officials are urging the state to provide them with more money to meet the requirements, and this is where things get dicey.

The sun once shone brightly on Florida's economy, but the party's over. While the state's budget situation has improved, it still faces a budget deficit of about $2.5 billion dollars. The state's governor-in-waiting, Republican Rick Scott, promised to cut taxes. And the GOP-dominated legislature appears to be cut from the same cloth, in terms of vowing to hold the line on new spending.

This would seem to leave Florida's school districts where they are now—forced to make difficult decisions and take creative approaches to hold the line on class sizes. What are the state's options? And what impact will the class-size caps have on the state's school systems, in the years to come?

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