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Politics

Amendment 8 Opponents Fight Against Class Size Change

October 4, 2010 - 6:00pm

Two weeks after supporters of Amendment 8 began a campaign to urge Floridians to vote in favor of the constitutional change that would relax caps on class sizes, opponents of the measure are fighting back.

Sen. Alex Villalobos, R-Miami, announced the addition Tuesday of three new groups -- Florida PTA, Florida State Conference NAACP and the Florida Association for Child Care Management -- to the coalition in opposition of the amendment.

Villalobos stated it was the third attempt by his fellow legislators to undo the original class size amendment passed by voters in 2002, even though Amendment 8 would only raise the caps slightly and allow administrators to use averages when deciding class sizes.

They have failed twice before and they will fail once again, Villalobos said.

Some school superintendents and administrators have come out in favor of the amendment, saying they must resort to busing, cancelling classes and doubling up on teachers in classrooms in order to comply with the class size caps.

Rocky Hanna, principal of Leon High School in Tallahassee, is not sympathetic to those claims, and called the drastic measures to meet the requirements scare tactics.

If we can pull it off, I dont know why every other school in Florida cant pull it off, Hanna said.

Hanna came out in support of the amendment earlier this year, but after legislators failed to adequately fund the class size dictates, leaving schools $353 million short, the trust was broken.

Even without the money promised, we were able to make it work, Hanna said.

Some legislators and proponents of Amendment 8 claim the savings to the state, as much as $1 billion according to Florida Tax Watch, will be funneled back into education, but opponents arent buying it.

They say it will be used for things like teacher raises. Really? Even teachers dont believe that, Hanna said.

Under current law, class sizes are capped at 18 students in kindergarten through third grade, 22 students in fourth grade through eighth grade, and 25 students in ninth through 12th grade. The amendment would raise those caps to 21, 27, and 30 students, respectively.

Despite the modest increases, critics of the amendment claim the modification of the original class size amendment would mean packed classrooms, overworked teachers, lower test scores and more dropouts. Dale Landry, president of the Tallahassee branch of the NAACP, complained that legislators were willing to fund prisons but not fully fund education.

Make no mistake, Amendment 8 will lead to overcrowded classrooms and hurt our kids. If we dont do this then our children will be going to these prisons. Its about investing in our future, Landry said.

A month before Election Day, opponents of Amendment 8 are playing with a lead. A recent poll shows just 35 percent of voters are in favor of the amendment, which needs the approval of 60 percent of the electorate to be made law.

The ballot measure must also pass another test before voters get to decide on it Nov. 2. The Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday to have votes on the amendment not count (it may be too late to have the measure stricken from ballots).

Leon County Circuit Court Chief Judge Charles Francis declared the summary of the amendment very clear and unambiguous, rejecting a challenge of the measure from the Florida Education Association, the largest teachers union in Florida.

--

Reach Gray Rohrer at grohrer@sunshinestatenews.com, or at (850) 727-0859.

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