Out of the more than 90 proposals now before the Constitution Revision Commission, one deals with class sizes and teacher pay in Florida’s public schools.
Voters in 2002 approved a constitutional amendment placing strict limits on public-school class sizes. But the question has been whether the limits provide enough educational bang for the buck.
“I wanted to propose an amendment that would protect the will of the voters, who really want to have more investment in our public schools, “said Patricia Levesque, CEO for the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a think tank on education reform based in Tallahassee and founded by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.
Proposal 90 from Levesque would allow schools to comply with class-size limits based on average numbers of students.
Under the 2002 amendment, grades K-3 are capped at 18 students per classroom. Grades 4-8 is 22, and 25 students per classroom in high school.
“What happens now is, say, you have a second-grade class that has a full 18 students in each classroom,” said Levesque. “And then a new family moves in during the school year. That principal has to face a decision to break up a classroom; add another teacher, or potentially move that student to another school.”
If that ninetheenth student moves into the second grade and there’s a third grade class with less than 18 kids, the principal could work within the averages in that school if Prop 90 is passed.
Even is the proposal is approved by the requisite 60 percent of Florida voters, it won’t affect the status quo in the Escambia County School District, where Malcolm Thomas is Superintendent.
“[Under] the current rules, if you allow school choice, you can already use the average class size for the penalty,” said Thomas. “We have choice throughout the school district. That makes all of those schools eligible to use the class average. So for Escambia, that part of the amendment doesn’t change anything at all.”
The second component in the proposal, says Levesque, would allow the use of money earmarked to maintain class size but not used, to go for teacher raises.
“I just want some assurance to the voters that if your school district saves any money, by moving from class caps to school average class caps, that any of that savings still stays in education, and is put towards raising teacher pay,” Levesque said.
But Thomas says that also would not apply to Escambia, and a number of other districts around the state. Sort of the carrot-and-stick approach – but without the carrot.
“Unfortunately, this may be one of those amendments that looks on the surface that it’s going to do something positive for teacher pay, but in reality doesn’t do much at all,” Thomas said.
Meanwhile, the Constitution Revision Commission and its proposals could be facing an identity crisis. According to a poll from the Florida Bar, which represents attorneys statewide, 88 percent of Florida voters couldn’t correctly identify just what the CRC does.