State Politics

Area legislators: Class-size limits will pass Senate

MANATEE — A local legislator has predicted a measure calling for easing of the state’s class-size amendment will pass in the state Senate as early as next week, saying, “We’re anxious to get it out.”

Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Sarasota, who chairs the Florida Senate Education Pre K-12 Committee, and serves as a member of its Education Pre K-12 Appropriations Committee, said she expects a class-size measure to reach the Senate floor sometime next week.

Her colleague, Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, who at one point had proposed repeal of the class size amendment altogether, seconded Detert’s assessment.

“It’s the right thing to do,” he said of the measure expected to emerge for a floor vote, Senate Joint Resolution 2.

The plan would freeze the size of public school classes as they are now, rather than allowing more stringent criteria to go into effect, as required by a constitutional amendment voters approved in 2002.

If the House of Representatives OKs an identical measure, House Bill 7039, and the governor signs it, 60 percent of voters would also have to approve it on the fall ballot. State House Speaker Pro Tempore Ron Reagan predicted the House would pass the measure, he said Tuesday.

“If we go to the final step of the class size amendment as originally passed, it would cost us approximately $3 billion next year. The money couldn’t be used for other things in education,” said Detert recently.

“It wouldn’t even help parents, because it’s so restrictive, if your class calls for 18 students and you were at 19, you’d have to be bused to another school, or go to a separate class,” she said.

“We’re asking (Floridians) to vote for it at the size it is now, and not go further to the final draconian step,” Detert said.

The measure is opposed by many Democrats and the Florida Education Association, representing 140,000 professionals who work in classrooms from pre-kindergarten through university.

“The voters in 2002 gave directions to the legislature, saying they would like smaller classes,” said Mark Pudlow, spokesman for the Florida Education Association. “Every year, the legislature has tried to weaken or abolish the class size amendment the voters put into effect.”

“The practical effect will be more kids in every classroom after this is through,” he said.

The Manatee school district supports easing the class-size limits for budgetary and other reasons, officials said.

Under current law, classes would be capped at 18 students through third grade; at 22 in grades 4-8; and at 25 for high school classes, with counts done at the class level.

The Senate proposal requires the maximum number of students assigned to a teacher, while not exceeding the school level average, to be 21 students through third grade; 27 in grades 4-8; and 30 for high school classes, according to a Senate bill analysis.

A huge financial penalty is built into the legislation to ensure that districts do not revert to larger class sizes, Detert said.

“We have districts in other parts of the state that don’t do what they’re supposed to do,” said Detert. “In some areas, they didn’t have courage to re-district, they have some schools packed with kids, and other schools that are empty,” she said. “That’s why we have to build in the punishment.”

She predicted that in Manatee and Sarasota counties, voters would easily pass the measure.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.