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Education Reporter

Florida's Class $ize Amendment Is a Costly Wake-up Call 
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TALLAHASSEE, FL - Florida's constitutional amendment to reduce the size of public school classes went into effect at the beginning of this school year, wreaking havoc on education budgets and leading to widespread criticism of the measure.

The amendment, which Florida voters approved last November, will cost the state nearly $1 billion in the first two years alone, according to state Board of Education figures. Reductions in class size are mandated over the next seven years, beginning with an average decrease of two students per class in the 2004-2005 school year. By 2010, classes will be limited to 18 pupils in pre-kindergarten through third grade, 22 in fourth through eighth grades, and 25 in high school.

Several board members have complained that there are more effective, less expensive ways to improve education than reducing class sizes. Gov. Jeb Bush, some education officials and commentators have suggested that Florida voters should repeal the constitutional amendment.

The nearly $1 billion budgeted for class size reductions in the first two years pays only for operational costs, such as hiring more teachers and revising schedules. It does not fund the construction of new classrooms. "The real costs have not shown up yet and the real costs will dwarf what is spent so far," Jim Warford, chancellor of K-12 public schools, told the Associated Press (8-19-03). State education commissioner Jim Horne called the budget impact "a hurricane."

Meanwhile, state education figures indicate that only 41% of Florida's black fourth graders and 51% of Hispanic fourth graders could read at their grade level in 2003.

Of the hundreds of studies of the relationship between class size and student achievement, 85% found that reducing class size did not improve student performance, according to University of Rochester economist Eric Hanushek. The nationwide average class size has been dropping for decades without improvement in standardized test scores. In 1961, classes averaged 30 students; by 1998 the number had fallen to 23.

Florida is so desperate to find ways to reduce class sizes that the legislature passed a law last spring enabling high school students to skip senior year. Students are permitted to graduate with six fewer credits as long as they double up on English classes and study a foreign language for two years.

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