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House Passes Bill To Reduce Class Size Penalties

Pasco County Schools/flickr

School districts are likely to face fewer penalties for violating class-size requirements under a bill that passed the Florida House Friday on a vote of 107 - 3.

Districts that go over the caps required under Florida’s class-size amendment must pay a fine. That money is then distributed to districts that are in compliance. But the bill would enable noncompliant districts to calculate class size based on the school average -- instead of having to pay a penalty for each class that’s too big.

Rep. Kristin Jacobs (D-Coconut Creek) supports the bill because - as she told the House - the Broward school district has paid $11 million in penalties.

“None of those dollars came back to Broward County to help us solve the problem," Jacobs said. "Our school board is working very hard every day to meet the requirements of class size and the challenges that it represents in a county that has 1.8 million people.”

The class size amendment was approved by voters in 2002 to keep classes small. The amendment gave the Legislature about eight years to make sure districts had enough classrooms to comply.  But the Legislature has implemented rules since then to loosen the requirements, like cutting the number of classes subject to class-size limits by almost two-thirds.

House Minority Leader Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach told House members classes are supposed to be capped at between 18 and 25 students, depending on grade level.

“It is 2015, and we’re very far away from those types of numbers," Pafford told House members. "The Legislature has reinterpreted and built rules to basically go (around) what the people wanted.”

Rep. George Moraitis (R-Fort Lauderdale) sponsors the bill that would change how penalties are calculated.

“When I asked him how important is the class size and those sorts of things, [Broward's Robert Runcie] said we literally rank class size as more important than educating our children in our district because the money will go out of our district if we don’t do it," Moraitis said. "That’s not the right answer. We need to modify the penalty to bring common sense to this, put the money back into the classroom to help the schools comply with the class size.”

The bill also repeals an increase in penalties that was scheduled to begin this year, and requires districts to publish a plan to get into compliance.

The same proposal is moving through the Senate.