Proponents explain class size amendment

An advocate for reducing class sizes and improving public education, Sen. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami and The Coalition to Reduce Class Size say they are soldiers fighting hard in the struggle to improve the quality of Florida’s public schools.

“The Coalition to reduce class is dedicated to improving the quality of Florida public schools by requiring the state to provide the needed funding to reduce the number of students in academic classrooms,” Meek said.

To ensure this happens Meek and the coalition drafted the proposed Amendment to Reduce Class Size-Amendment IX-, which over 500,000 voters petitioned to appear on the Nov. 5 election ballot.

The Amendment is facing political opposition from Gov. Jeb Bush, the State Legislature and various educational officials. Opponents indicate cost estimates as one of their reasons for opposing the amendment; “a reason to often heard from politicians when it comes to education spending,” said Damien Filer, a spokesperson for the Coalition to Reduce Class Size.

“The 20 to 27.5 billion dollar “state economists” estimate was arrived at by partisan political appointees whose bosses oppose reducing class sizes,” said Filer.

The $20-27.5 billion price tag, state government and educational officials suggested, would come at the expense of existing state services, like programs for senior citizens and possibly higher education funding.

Another suggested option would be implementing more taxes.

Thomas Weightman, CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, said they support the idea of reducing class size but not the amendment.

Weightman said that aside from cost, the association does not suport the amendment because they believe a statute would be more flexible and governable.

Leon County School Superintendent William Montford shared similar sentiments to his colleagues.

“I am not opposed to the idea of reducing class size, but by what means can you fund this implementation, Montford said.

“If the amendment passes it will more than likely be funded at the expense of other programs. State colleges and universities definitely should be concerned,” he added.

Some university officials are indeed concerned about the need for education reform and how it should be funded; however they are also in support of the amendment.

“The class size amendment is definitely a good idea, there is a great need for educational reform and this is a positive first step if implemented,” said SGA President Andre Hammel.

“Research has proven there is a strong correlation between class size and student achievement and in the end its going to benefit all Floridians and the public K through 12 education system.,” he said.

Hammel, who sits on the university board of trustees, said he has been paying close attention to the debate over class size.

Hammel also noted that the board is concerned about the source of the funds for the proposed amendment, but it will probably deal with it after the amendment’s fate has been decided in the Nov. 5 election.

“Then we can meet with whomever about how and what needs to be done, but the bottom line is more money needs to be spent on education,” Hammel said.

A number of estimates have been given by various economists and organizations, none have been as high as the one proposed by the governor.

The coalition is backing a $4-12 billion estimate projected from the Office of Economic and Demographic Research.

“The one nonpartisan participant of the revenue estimating conference,” Filer notes.

Costs would have to be paid over an eight to 10 year period. The amendment, if passed, calls for its full implementation by 2010.

Filer, Meek and the coalition said their opponents’ assertions that investing in the future of Florida’s children will require a tax increase or reduction in other state services is simply not true and are scare tactics to dissuade voter support.

He noted, Senate President John McKay pointed out during the last legislative session, Florida gives away $23 billion in tax exemptions every year for things like the Golf Hall of Fame, skyboxes at sports stadiums, adult entertainment and ostrich feeding. This revenue alone would be enough to reduce class sizes three times over in just one year.

A FAMU student expressed a similar sentiment and her support for the amendment.

“I like the idea of smaller classes,” said Akita Heatley, a senior physical education student from St. Petersburg. She added, “I don’t think its fair to say money will have to be taken from various programs or schools; I thought that was the point of the lottery, to serve as a funding base for our schools.”

More than 18 studies on class size have been done since 1990.

Of these 18 studies only one, which was funded by a conservative Washington political group, did not show a direct relationship between smaller classes and improved academic performance.

“Florida’s classrooms are over crowded. To the overwhelming majority of parents, teachers, students and other Floridians, creating smaller classes is just common sense,” said Sen. Meek.

“Floridians know overcrowded classrooms aren’t good for students. This report documents that study after study proves them right.”

Sen. Meek, the coalition and Amendment 9 supporters say the decision at hand for government and educational officials isn’t about price tags and politics, but the children in Florida’s public schools.

If passed by voters in November, the maximum number of public school students in Pre-Kindergarten through third grade 3 will not exceed 18 students. In grades 4 through 8 class sizes will not exceed 22 students; and in grades 9 through 12 class sizes will not exceed 25 students.