Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Proposal to Reduce Class Sizes Gets Boost State High Court Tosses Arguments

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Proposal to Reduce Class Sizes Gets Boost State High Court Tosses Arguments

Article excerpt

Byline: Jim Saunders, Times-Union staff writer

TALLAHASSEE -- The Florida Supreme Court yesterday gave a major boost to a ballot proposal that could require the state to spend billions of dollars to shrink public-school class sizes.

Justices, in a unanimous vote, rejected arguments that the proposed constitutional amendment should be kept off the November election ballot. With the decision, supporters can continue trying to gather the 488,000 petition signatures needed to put the amendment on the ballot.

Sen. Kendrick Meek, a Miami Democrat who has chaired the effort, said the amendment is needed because lawmakers have refused to take steps to limit classroom overcrowding. Supporters say jamming students into classrooms has hurt the quality of education in Florida.

"This is bringing democracy to public education," Meek said.

But critics question how the state would pay for the additional school buildings and teachers that would be needed to carry out the amendment. The exact cost is unclear, though Education Secretary Jim Horne estimated last fall it could cost $10 billion.

"I just don't see any way to do it," said McGlade Holloway, the Duval County school system's assistant superintendent for facilities services.

The proposal would require that lawmakers gradually reduce class sizes throughout the decade, with limits taking full effect in 2010. At that point, each teacher in pre-kindergarten through third grade would have a maximum of 18 students; each teacher in fourth through eighth grades would have a maximum of 22 students; and each teacher in ninth through 12th grades would have a maximum of 25 students.

Classes throughout the state commonly have more students than that, particularly in fast-growing areas such as South Florida. Stephen Bright, budget director for the Duval schools, estimated that the county averages 23 to 24 students in elementary-school classes and 26 to 27 students in middle- and high-school classes.

Some Democratic lawmakers and the Florida Education Association, the state's teachers union, are spearheading the ballot proposal. The state has verified about 85,000 petition signatures, and Meek said about 70,000 more have been collected. …

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