Amendment 8 Fails; Class Size Rules Stand
November 3, 2010
Florida voters Tuesday narrowly struck down a lawmaker orchestrated attempt to alter the laws dictating how many kids can sit in a Florida classroom.
Amendment 8, a proposal that would have tweaked the existing class size law to eliminate the hard classroom size caps set in place by voters in 2002, garnered 54.6 percent of the vote, short of the required 60 percent for proposed constitutional amendments to be enacted.
The vote means that caps on school classroom sizes that voters put in the Constitution eight years earlier will stay in place. The 2002 Constitutional amendment caps classes at 18 students in kindergarten through third grade, 22 in fourth through eighth grade, and 25 in high school. The limits have been phased in since the amendment was passed. The hard numerical caps went into effect this year.
But shrinking class sizes is pricey — it requires putting more teachers in the classrooms. And lawmakers have struggled to give schools the amount of money needed for them to adequately meet the caps.
Districts began clamoring for flexibility to meet the caps when the economy spiraled downward and lawmakers couldn’t budget the necessary dollars to keep pace. The cost has been a major concern since before the original amendment was even passed. Its highest profile opponent back in 2002 was then- Gov. Jeb Bush, who said the cost of it would “blot out the sun.”
The proposed amendment would have allowed schools to calculate the class size at a grade wide average, rather than at the individual classroom level.
The state teachers’ union has staunchly defended the original class size provision, arguing that the softening of the law is merely the Legislature backing out of a promise to fund the schools to meet the hard caps. The group challenged the proposed amendment in court, but the Supreme Court ultimately ruled to keep it on the ballot.
The group has argued that there was no need to amend the Constitution and that flexibility could be achieved via statutory changes.
By Kathleen Haugney
The News Service Florida