School class amendment separates teachers unions from many local school boards

All three bills are universally disdained by the Florida Education Association and have been voted down by Democrats in the Senate.

But the class-size law, while opposed by those groups, are in many cases, supported by superintendents and school board members, who say they're about to get clobbered financially when the new school year begins in August.

The Hillsborough County School District, for example, has never supported the amendment.  The central thrust for it emanated out of South Florida, where large class sizes became a huge problem in the 1990's, leading to then state legislator Kendrick Meek of Miami helping to lead the way to the 2002 law.

School Districts were given years to get to the hard caps that kick in this August: no more than 18 students in K-3rd grade classes; no more than 22 students in grades 4-8, and no more than 25 students in high schools.  A lot of of money has been spent to get districts to "average" that amount - but the law calls for there to be no averages this year, but a hard cap.

The Florida Sun-Sentinel reports today that it would cost Broward County schools more than $53 million to come into compliance this year, and Palm Beach County approximately $40 million:

Meeting those standards "seems impossible, given the amount of money we need to do it," said Broward Schools Superintendent James Notter.   He estimates the district would have to hire 752 additional teachers, at a cost of $53.8 million. But not meeting the requirements comes with a financial penalty, which for Broward would be between $17 million and $19 million.

That would be in addition to the $80 million to $100 million in state money the district estimates it could lose because of lower state revenues.

Palm Beach County  would have to hire roughly 500 to 600 more teachers, at a cost of up to $40 million, said Schools Superintendent Art Johnson. The district anticipates a $40 million loss in state money, with an estimated additional $8.7 million penalty for not meeting class size.

The new law would continue to allow "flexibility" to school districts on the measure, but would still include a cap to prevent class sizes to get as big as they were in South Florida prior to the 2002 law.

Union officials that CL have spoken to try to speak respectfully of the disagreement they have with local school board members, but there is a fissure.  And one can certainly understand why supporters of class size simply don't trust Florida Republicans on the matter, since many of them have tried to scuttle the amendment every year virtually since it passed (and tried to stop it beforehand as well).

CL wrote a story about this back in January, which included this reaction from the biggest teacher's union in the state.

The Florida Education  Association is also against scuttling the amendment. Spokesman Mark Pudlow questions the state's research and says the opposition to the law is nothing new. What is new, he says, is the "hook" -- the economy argument.

"I think some longtime opponents are seizing on this and trying put a dagger in the heart of the measure," he says. When asked about districts like Hillsborough expressing support for the Weatherford measure, he says, "Districts have always had problems with it because they never thought the state would come up with the money, and they were right. Florida stopped growing. Getting to this level is going to cost a significant amount, but this is something the voters put in the constitution."

The measure would need to be approved by 60% of voters in the fall.

As expected, the Florida Senate yesterday voted to put class size limits on the November ballot.  The House is expected to follow suit soon.

That vote was the 3rd in a series this week that have angered teachers and the teachers union.  The most incendiary has been SB 6, the John Thrasher sponsored measure that does a number of things that St. Petersburg House Democrat Bill Heller told CL earlier this week were "anti-teacher,";  the legislation would make it easier to to fire teachers, links their pay increases to student test scores, and would also add more testing for students.  The Senate also passed a measure that would boost school vouchers.

But it's SB 6 that has ignited strong passions among the teaching profession.  The St. Petersburg Times Christina Silva reports that yesterday,

more than 1,000 Miami-Dade teachers protested outside seven local lawmakers' offices. The largest crowd of about 300 assembled outside state Sen. Rudy Garcia's office in Hialeah and demanded the bill be stopped.

But that is unlikely, because unlike the current situation in Washington D.C., Tallahassee is GOP country, and the Republican legislature wants this bill to pass. A companion bill to SB 6 in the House, sponsored by Port Richey Republican John Legg, began moving through the House PreK-12 Policy Committee.

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