It’s time to rethink class size requirements
Remember the last special legislative session when the world was abuzz with the news that $100 million more was being added to the schools budget? Now, imagine at least 20 times that amount being added every year. It could happen.
Substantial scientific research shows the current class size requirement in the Florida Constitution loses much of its effect above the grade 3 level. That means the state is plowing about $2 billion each year into an unproven education reform that does little to help our children succeed. It’s money that could be better spent on other educational programs.
Since 2002, taxpayers have invested more than $36 billion to reduce class sizes with the expectation that smaller classes will improve student achievement, but they have little to show for that investment in most grades. The most definitive study, conducted by Harvard University researchers, shows class size reduction had no discernable impact on student achievement, absenteeism or behavior in grades 4-8.
There is evidence that smaller classes for PreK through 3rd grade has promising effects on student learning, and Florida TaxWatch and the Florida Council of 100 agree those class sizes should remain small or get smaller. However, the substantial body of research shows the policy should be abandoned for grades 4 and above with the money reinvested in strategies that will increase student learning.
That’s the underlying theme of TaxWatch research and the Florida Council of 100’s recent report, "Horizons 2040: Prekindergarten to Grade 3." "Horizons 2040" makes numerous recommendations for improving our school systems, including attracting and retaining high-performing teachers and leaders; expanding high-quality voluntary prekindergarten programs; providing school districts with a flexible source of funds for specialized student populations, such as English language learners, struggling or at-risk students, or students needing intensive reading instruction; expanding the use of technology and personalized methods of school instruction; and even reducing class sizes where proven effective like in grades PreK-3.
Despite the substantial investment of state funding and the flexible methods to comply with the constitutional requirement afforded by statute, local school districts continue to struggle financially to meet the requirements. Some districts have had to choose between hiring more teachers and saving vital programs.
Florida TaxWatch and the Council believe there is no substitute for having a well-qualified and experienced teacher in every classroom. Districts need the flexibility to cater to the educational needs of their students.
The idea would be for the Legislature to develop a special list of uses for the money and then let school districts decide how best to allocate the dollars to help their students. For example, a district with many English Language Learners might want to invest in more reading coaches while a district needing laptops could spend its funds on that. Additionally, school districts could use the repurposed funding for the number one factor in a student’s success – hiring and paying more outstanding teachers.
To make this happen, though, we must amend the Florida Constitution. The Florida Council of 100 has proposed just such an idea to the Constitution Revision Commission, and it’s vital that we all get behind it.
The CRC is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of our children. Please join TaxWatch in calling on the CRC to take-up this issue and put it on the 2018 ballot. Our students and the taxpayers of Florida deserve nothing less.