Florida Education Commissioner Eric Smith has notified 35 districts and three laboratory schools that they were out of compliance with the state’s voter-approved law setting class-size limits.
The constitutional amendment, approved in 2002, set limits of 18 students per class in kindergarten through 3rd grade, 22 in 4th grade through 8th grade, and 25 in high school.
Statewide, 44,556 of 812,483 traditional public classrooms, or 5.5 percent, had too many students, Mr. Smith said Nov. 30. In addition, he said, 44 of 454 charter schools were in violation.
The potential fines have yet to be calculated, but they could run into the millions of dollars for larger districts. That’s expected to take months, though. Districts and charter schools can appeal the Department of Education’s findings, and any fines would have to be approved by the state board of education and the Legislative Budget Commission in February.
The Florida School Boards Association has promised to challenge the penalties in court if the state attempts to impose them.
Florida’s class-size caps were phased in over several years and went into full effect this school year for every core curriculum classroom. State lawmakers proposed a new constitutional amendment that would loosen those limits by applying them as a school-wide average rather than an average for each class, a limit most schools would have been able to meet. But voters rejected that plan on Nov. 2. (“State Ballot Measures on Education Receive Rough Treatment at Polls,” Nov. 10, 2010.)
The caps have been a contentious and largely partisan issue since they initially were adopted. Then-Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican, led the opposition, arguing that the caps would be too expensive and take money away from other school needs. The Florida Education Association, the statewide teachers union, and most Democratic politicians have backed the limits.
A majority of states have at least one policy that limits the number of students that may be in each general education classroom, and several have relaxed those class-size policies since 2008. (“Class-Size Limits Targeted for Cuts,” Dec. 1, 2010.)