School Climate & Safety

Florida’s School-Crowding Woes Offer Fodder for Ongoing Debate

By Kerry A. White — September 24, 1997 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Press Floridians to put a price tag on the school crowding problem in their state, and they’ll sigh heavily and say it depends.

That’s because Florida’s governor, the state education commissioner, state lawmakers, and school groups are brandishing figures that are billions of dollars apart, and state officials’ assessments of classroom crowding range from schools having ample classroom space to an $11.1 billion construction backlog.

This despite a long summer of well-publicized meetings led by Gov. Lawton Chiles intended not only to reconcile those billion-dollar differences, but also to come up with a long-term solution to the state’s crowding problem.

Fueling the arguments is a new law requiring districts to count 75 percent of their portable classrooms and all music rooms, art rooms, and computer labs as permanent, regular classroom space.

The law, known as House Bill 2121, was passed on the last day of the legislative session last May. It eliminated much of the state’s need for new schools, at least on paper. It could shrink the total dollar estimate of school construction needs as low as $775 million. Details of the law’s implementation are still being ironed out, and likely will be made final during a special legislative session expected to be held before Thanksgiving.

‘Other People’s Money’

Sponsors of the measure, which also limits the size of new classrooms that districts build, said its intention is to curb wasteful spending on school construction.

“It’s always a question of more money--other people’s money. It’s time for schools to be frugal and functional,” said Rep. Stephen R. Wise, a Republican who chairs a key education committee. “Somehow, educational professionals have said you can’t learn in portable classrooms. Well, I know a lot of doctors, lawyers, and scientists who were schooled in portables.”

But since its passage, the law has been blasted by the Democratic governor and school officials.

“The bill is an attempt to hide the problem,” said Gary Landry, a spokesman for the Florida Education Association United, the state’s second-largest teachers’ union and an American Federation of Teachers affiliate, which assesses the state’s total school construction needs at $3.5 billion. “Everyone’s doing a lot of denying and finger-pointing, but the bottom line is, we’ve got overcrowding.”

However big a problem, the crowding itself stems from the more than 600,000 students who have poured into the state’s schools over the past 10 years. But an end may be in sight, as the number of students enrolling in public schools in Florida is expected to begin slowing down by 2002, according to the state education department. The projected slowdown is one of the reasons many lawmakers want to tame school construction spending.

Not a Permanent Classroom

Critics say the new law fails to take into account how portable classrooms can impede learning and strain core school facilities such as libraries, cafeterias, and bathrooms.

“Portables were never intended to be permanent,” said Dewitt Lewis, the principal of the 250-student Waldo Community School in Alachua County, where about one-third of the students attend classes in the school’s seven portable classrooms.

Mr. Lewis said the students who spend their school days in portables lack the same access to technology as their peers in the main school building, get wet moving to the lunchroom or library on rainy days, and are displaced during bouts of severe weather.

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety What the Research Says A Hallmark of School Shooters: Long History of Social Rejection
New research finds that shooters in K-12 schools are more often "failed joiners" than loners.
5 min read
Butler County Sheriff Deputies stand on the scene at Madison Local Schools, in Madison Township in Butler County, Ohio, after a school shooting on Feb. 29, 2016.
Sheriff deputies were on the scene of a shooting at Madison Local Schools, in Butler County, Ohio, in 2016.
Cara Owsley/The Cincinnati Enquirer via AP
School Climate & Safety 4 Myths About Suspensions That Could Hurt Students Long Term
New longitudinal research shows that longer in- and out-of-school suspensions have severe consequences for students.
5 min read
Image of a student sitting at a desk in a school hallway.
School Climate & Safety Photos The Tense and Joyous Start to the 2021 School Year, in Photos
Students are headed back to school with the threat of the Delta variant looming. How is this playing out across the country? Take a look.
School Climate & Safety Former NRA President Promotes Gun Rights at Fake Graduation Set Up by Parkland Parents
A former NRA president invited to give a commencement address to a school that doesn’t exist was set up to make a point about gun violence.
Lisa J. Huriash, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
2 min read
David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, speaks during the CPAC meeting in Washington on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2010.
David Keene, the former president of the NRA, promoted gun rights in a speech he thought was a rehearsal for a commencement address to graduating students in Las Vegas. The invitation to give the speech was a set up by Parkland parents whose son was killed in the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP