Florida school districts that can’t shrink the size of their classes could soon face shrunken state funding.
School systems across the state may have to absorb monetary penalties for not meeting the requirements of the state’s mandate to limit class sizes, approved by Florida voters in 2002 and phased in over time. By last fall, schools and districts were required to cap class sizes at 18 students for grades K-3, 22 for grades 4-8, and 25 for grades 9-12.
State law says that districts and charter schools that don’t comply with the mandate will lose a portion of their class-size categorical funds, with some of that money being reallocated to districts and schools that are in compliance. In late November, the state released a list of schools and districts showing that many weren’t hitting the required targets. Districts’ potential loss of funds ranged from a few thousand dollars to $6.6 million for Miami-Dade schools and $16.6 million for Palm Beach County schools, and totaled about $43 million in penalties statewide.
Schools and districts were given until mid-December to appeal those penalties to the state’s education commissioner, Eric J. Smith. The commissioner can recommend lowering the penalties if schools and districts can show that they haven’t met the mandate “despite appropriate efforts to do so, or because of an extreme emergency,” he explained in a letter to school and district leaders.
A majority of states have at least one policy that limits the number of students that may be in a general education classroom, according to the Education Commission of the States, and several have relaxed those class-size policies since 2008.
SOURCES: Education Commission of the States; Education Week Library Director Kathryn Dorko and Library Intern Ruth Lincoln
This week, Florida’s board of education is expected to review those appeals. Mr. Smith is expected to submit his final recommendations on easing penalties to the state’s legislative budget commission next month.
Districts across Florida have struggled with the class-size requirements, and many school officials have complained that the legislature has not lived up to obligations to pay for the mandate. State officials say $19 billion has been provided in state money so far.
In November, Florida voters considered a ballot measure to raise class-size limits by three pupils in K-3 classes and five students in higher grades. The measure won a majority of votes—but not the 60 percent approval necessary to become law.
A version of this article appeared in the January 19, 2011 edition of Education Week as Class-Size Fines on Horizon in Fla.