Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Voters don't support scaling back class-size law

An attempt to scale back Florida's class-size law is going nowhere, according to a new poll.

In November, voters will decide whether to modify the law that they approved eight years ago or keep the strict class size rules that are going into effect this year.

But the poll, by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc., shows that more than half of voters will oppose Amendment 8, making it highly unlikely the measure could win the 60 percent it would need to pass.

The situation has been made worse because the Legislature did not fully fund the class-size law.

Electives have been cut so principals can afford additional teachers, although some classes are being taught by substitute teachers because of a statewide shortage of math and science instructors.

School Boards across Florida think the law's final requirements — hard caps of 18, 22 and 25 students per class, depending on grade level — are too strict and too expensive.

The Legislature could have helped school districts deal with the cost, but did not do so. The final phase of class size was estimated by the state Department of Education to have cost $350 million, but the Legislature did not provide the additional money.

Amendment 8 aims to keep some of the state's class-size rules in place but give schools more wiggle room when it comes to assigning students to classrooms.

If it does fail, the Florida Legislature will, in the spring, have to figure out a way to keep funding the changes. School districts are already expecting a funding shortfall when the federal stimulus money they have been receiving to stave off layoffs runs out next year.

"Statewide, only 35 percent say they will vote for it, while a 53 percent majority is already lined up against it," J. Bradford Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon, wrote in the report released Friday.

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