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Amendment to loosen class-size limits fails

By Staff | Nov 3, 2010

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Voters rejected a proposed state constitutional amendment that would have loosened Florida’s limits on the number of children who can be in public school classes.

School administrators and teachers were split over Amendment 8. With 89 percent of the expected vote counted Tuesday, the amendment had 54.8 percent support — less than the 60 percent needed for passage.

Supporters included many administrators, who said it would have given schools flexibility they need to avoid such drastic measures as busing kids to other schools and combining two grades in a single classroom to comply with class-size requirements.

“Certainly it’s disappointing,” said Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, a chief sponsor. “The downside is the dollars invested in class size are going to come from other areas that could have been funded.”

Opponents, including many teachers, said Amendment 8 was really about funding because it was expected to save $350 million to $1 billion in class-size costs every year. That’s money, they said, public schools no longer would get because the amendment doesn’t say where it would go.

“I believe the people of Florida have presented their ultimatum to the Florida Legislature to comply with their constitutional requirement to fund class size,” said Broward County Superintendent James Notter. “If you keep moving the numbers higher to help flexibility you continue to underfund public education.”

Placed on the ballot by the Republican-controlled Legislature, the measure’s backers also included most GOP politicians and business interests. Both major candidates for governor, Republican Rick Scott and Democrat Alex Sink, also supported it.

The Florida Education Association, the statewide teachers union, and its local affiliates spearheaded the opposition. Other opponents included the Florida PTA, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Florida Association for Child Care Management. Miami state Sen. Alex Villalobos, one of the few Republican politicians who opposed the amendment, chairs the Vote No on 8 coalition formed by the FEA.

Voters adopted the existing class-size limits through a citizen initiative in 2002 over the opposition of then-Gov. Jeb Bush. It has been phased in since then and for the first time this fall it’s going into full effect by requiring every core curriculum class to have no more than 18 students in pre-kindergarten through third grade, 22 in fourth through eight grade and 25 in high school.

“I think it’s a great day for the children, the classrooms, for our teachers and the future of Florida, and for the citizens who voted in 2002,” said Karin Brown, Florida PTA President.

Amendment 8 would’ve increased those limits by three students in pre-kindergarten through third grade and five in the other grades. Schools also would’ve had to abide by the existing caps on an average basis at the school-wide level just as they did last year under the phase-in plan.