Byline: MARY KELLI PALKA
In Toyetta Nealey's second-grade classroom at Rutledge H. Pearson Elementary, 17 students is just the right size.
It's perfect for putting children in groups of three or four to work on writing assignments or little projects - like making a recycling bin. And when they all come together on the rug for stories and other lessons, there's just enough room for everyone.
"We've got the gathering," Nealey said. "They can all fit on the carpet."
Smaller class sizes helped the school move from an "F" grade three years ago to an "A" last year, said Principal Debbie Crotty.
The impact has been so great, Crotty would rather give up other resources to balance her budget than lose even a single teacher.
"In order for children to make truly systematic learning gains, class size has to be what it is now," she said.
But maintaining small classes in every school comes with a stiff pricetag. Meeting state standards scheduled to kick in next school year will cost Northeast Florida districts an estimated $36 million, mostly to hire about 575 more teachers.
It'll be difficult to plan where to place those teachers since many schools don't have a solid idea of who's going to show up the first day of class until that first day.
And because tougher class size limits are coming at a time when school budgets are shrinking, which has already caused some schools to cut electives, it'll leave some students with fewer class options. But it would also put an end to the practice of having 40 students in a Spanish class, like the one currently offered at Mandarin High.
Schools statewide have already spent at least $16 billion to meet the requirements since voters, eager to …