School Climate & Safety

Gov. Bush’s Voucher, Class-Size Proposals Fail in 2005 Session

By Joetta L. Sack — May 17, 2005 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Basking in a strong record of success with his education priorities, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush appeared confident earlier this year when he proposed a big expansion of his state’s school voucher program and a rewrite of Florida’s voter-approved law reducing class sizes.

But as the 2005 legislative session closed this month, the GOP-led legislature rebuffed his plans, with lawmakers giving their fellow Republican his first significant defeat on education issues in his more than six years in office.

On class size, Mr. Bush had hoped to reopen a debate he lost when voters narrowly approved a costly initiative in 2002. The measure calls for gradually lowering class sizes and requires, by 2010, caps of 18 pupils for all K-3 classes, 22 students for the remaining elementary years through middle school, and 25 students for high school.

Rep. Gayle Harrell, a Republican, votes no on an amendment to her public school class-size bill on May 3, during the final week of the Florida legislature's 2005 session in Tallahassee.

The governor this year proposed a modified plan, to have been placed on a statewide ballot, that would have calculated the average class sizes at the district instead of the classroom level, thus giving districts more flexibility in reaching class-size targets. Gov. Bush estimates the class-size program passed by voters will cost $27 billion over eight years, which he maintains is simply too expensive for the state.

But the legislature did not agree. The class-size proposal needed a three-fifths majority in the 40-member Senate to go on the November 2006 ballot, but it failed 21-19 on May 5.

‘Darn Good Session’

In an attempt to draw the backing of the state’s teachers’ union, which has been among the top supporters of smaller classes, Gov. Bush proposed setting a minimum starting salary for new teachers at $35,000, and adding a $2,000 bonus for other teachers.

While the American Federation of Teachers estimated that the average salary for beginning teachers in Florida was $31,467 for the 2003-04 school year, the latest figure available, many new teachers in Miami and other urban areas in the state already earn nearly $35,000, according to the Florida Education Association, an affiliate of the AFT and the National Education Association.

“The whole idea of going back on a voter initiative is hard for a lot of political leaders to swallow,” said Mark Pudlow, a spokesman for the FEA.

Damien Filer, a spokesman for the Tallahassee-based advocacy group Communities for Quality Education, says the problem of crowded classrooms is worsening in most parts of the state.

“What we’re seeing now is an acknowledgment by legislators on both sides of the aisle that this is an issue that has to be addressed,” he said. “The longer we put it off, the worse it’s going to get.”

At the annual meeting of the Education Writers Association in St. Petersburg, Fla., on May 7, Gov. Bush called the past months “a pretty darn good session” in spite of his losses on the education bills. He expressed disappointment, though, on the defeat of his class-size plan.

The legislature also shot down Mr. Bush’s voucher plan for students who have failed the state’s reading assessments for three consecutive years. That measure could have provided vouchers to more than 170,000 Florida students, in addition to other state-funded programs that help students pay tuition at secular and religious private schools.

Voucher Defeat

Some Republicans expressed concern that the voucher program could be nullified by state courts, which have already declared another voucher program, the Opportunity Scholarships, to be in violation of the Florida Constitution because those scholarships provide public aid to help some students in failing schools attend religious schools. The state also offers vouchers for special education students and allows tax credits to groups that donate money to school scholarship funds. The vouchers and the tax-credit scholarships are used by about 25,000 students.

The state supreme court is scheduled to hear arguments early next month on the Opportunity Scholarships.

Florida will see a slight increase in the number of tax-credit scholarships given to students in the next school year.

As part of the budget, the legislature raised the total cap on the tuition tax credits to $88 million, from $50 million. Advocates of private school choice estimate the change will provide an additional 9,000 scholarships. About 11,000 students now use the tax-credit scholarships.

The legislature failed to pass a proposal, which was backed by the governor, that would have tightened oversight of schools that receive voucher money. Negotiations over the proposed policies broke down over plans for employee background checks.

Staff Writer Alan Richard contributed to this report.

Events

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.
Sponsor
Personalized Learning Webinar
No Time to Waste: Individualized Instruction Will Drive Change
Targeted support and intervention can boost student achievement. Join us to explore tutoring’s role in accelerating the turnaround. 
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools
Student Well-Being K-12 Essentials Forum Social-Emotional Learning: Making It Meaningful
Join us for this event with educators and experts on the damage the pandemic did to academic and social and emotional well-being.
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.
Sponsor
Privacy & Security Webinar
K-12 Cybersecurity in the Real World: Lessons Learned & How to Protect Your School
Gain an expert understanding of how school districts can improve their cyber resilience and get ahead of cybersecurity challenges and threats.
Content provided by Microsoft

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 Q&A How a Student's Push to End Paddling in Schools Became a Yearslong Civics Lesson
A student advocate pushed to end corporal punishment in his state—and gained a passion for civic involvement in the process.
7 min read
Image of a paddle.
dannikonov/Getty
School Climate & Safety ‘Their Vote Matters’: Schools Provide Training to Students on Working the Polls
“We just want to make sure that our youth ... know that they’re important, their vote matters, their vote counts, they can get involved."
Jenny Roberts, The Morning Call
4 min read
Allen student Yovian Torres Gomez makes notes on his packet during a poll worker training Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022, at Allen High School. Allen students will be working as clerks, handing out paper ballots and directing them where to go, when voting concludes Tuesday in the general election. Some will also be translating for voters.
Allen student Yovian Torres Gomez makes notes on his packet during a poll worker training Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022, at Allen High School. Allen students will be working as clerks, handing out paper ballots and directing them where to go, when voting concludes Tuesday in the general election. Some will also be translating for voters.
Amy Shortell/The Morning Call via TNS
School Climate & Safety A Parkland Dad Pleads for Action on School Safety
A father whose daughter was killed in the 2018 mass shooting spoke at a summit the day after the gunman was sentenced.
3 min read
A women in a black t-shirt lifts small painted stones out of a cardboard box, placing them on the ground at a memorial covered in flowers in front of a large white masonry sign that says "Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School."
Suzanne Devine Clark, an elementary school art teacher, places painted stones at a memorial outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2019, one year after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP
School Climate & Safety A School Safety Challenge: Keeping Crowds Secure Under the Glare of Friday Night Lights
Districts aim to keep students and spectators safe during sporting events, which draw large crowds to a less predictable environment.
5 min read
A police officer stands between rows of caution tape outside of a white high school football stadium that is brightly lit against the night sky.
A Tulsa Police officer films the area outside of the McLain High School football stadium in Tulsa, Okla., after a shooting during a Sept. 30 football game.
Mike Simons/Tulsa World via AP