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Another Attempt to Lift Class-Size Limits in Florida

Having seen a recent effort to raise class-limits fail at the ballot box, some Florida lawmakers are trying to ease those requirements through legislation.

A bill moving through the statehouse, Senate Bill 1466, would ease Florida's mandatory class-size limits, which were approved by voters in 2002 through a constitutional amendment.

Those limits require that class sizes be capped at 18 students for pre-K through grade 3, 22 students for grades 4-8, and 25 students in grades 9-12.

Critics say the law is too costly and rigid. They argue that it has hurt students by not giving them access to courses which have already reached their class-size limits, and by forcing schools to resort to scheduling and staffing gimmicks and other unsound practices to meet the mandate. Others say the legislature has never provided districts with sufficient funding to implement the policy effectively.

The bill, sponsored by Republican state Sen. David Simmons, would give schools an exception to the limit when students enroll after a count of students is taken in October. The legislation would also remove many classes from the definition of "core" courses—mostly foreign languages, honors and advanced classes, and those that are not required for graduation—from the requirement. In total, the number of core classes would fall from 849 to 288.

Legislators succeeded last year in placing an item on the November ballot that would have ease the state's class-size limits. But it did not receive the necessary 60 percent vote to pass, and so the class-size limit stayed in effect.

Given that the voters have spoken on the issue, would the new legislation, in attempting to ease the class-size limits, stand up to constitutional scrutiny? That appears to be open for debate. Supporters of the bill have argued it gives districts flexibility, yet stays within the parameters of the 2002 amendment.

The Florida Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, disagrees, saying their are more effective ways to give districts the class-size leeway they need.

"We've always maintained that there was a statutory way to provide the flexibility opponents of the measure say they need," FEA spokesman Mark Pudlow said in an e-mail. "But this is just the latest in a long line of efforts to attempt to duck meeting the financial obligations inherent to the class-size provisions, which have now been endorsed twice by the statewide electorate."

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