Class Size Caps Are Subject of Ballot, Lawsuits in Florida

Last Updated: August 26, 2010

This article appeared in the August 2010 Rural Policy Matters.

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Florida's Constitutional Amendment 8, passed in 2002 to cap class sizes, is scheduled to go into full effect this school year. But another initiative on the ballot this November could significantly alter the law. That current initiative is the subject of a lawsuit filed by the Florida Education Association against the Secretary of State and Department of State.

Amendment 8 caps enrollment in core courses at 18 students in Grades K–3, 21 students in Grades 4–8, and 25 students in Grades 9–12. The caps have been phased in over several years. Beginning this school year no classroom in a core subject can exceed these limits. Florida’s constitutionally-mandated class size limits are the most stringent in the nation.

Supporters of the caps claim that the caps ensure manageable class sizes in all core subjects in all schools for all students. Some critics argue that the caps are too expensive, while others support the idea of caps but claim the absolute classroom-level limits are impractical because one additional student moving in to a school can trigger the necessity of hiring a new teacher, moving many students between classrooms or even schools, and straining local budgets.

Opponents of the strict caps have put a measure on the November ballot that would revise the amendment to raise the caps to 21 students in K–3, 27 in 4–8, and 30 in high school. It would also allow districts to meet the cap by keeping average class sizes in each public school below the limit.

The FEA is seeking to remove Amendment 8 from this November’s ballot, claiming that its language is misleading and fails to advise voters of its true effects. According to the FEA complaint, the Florida constitution requires that the state provide necessary funding to meet the numeric class size goals, and the change in the language is in effect a state funding reduction for schools.

The 2002 law fines districts that exceed the caps and fines are re-distributed to compliant districts. Lawmakers recently tripled the financial penalties for districts out of compliance with the class size law, sparking separate lawsuits. Lawmakers also moved up the compliance checks for schools from February to October, which some supporters of the current caps claim was a political move to motivate voters to repeal the limits in November.

Rural districts, especially those with declining enrollments, have expressed concerns about the cost of implementing the class size limits at a time when the state’s funding for education has been dropping steadily. The 2002 class size amendment was passed largely along geographic lines, with more rural northern Florida voters opposing the measure and more urban southern Florida counties supporting it.

Read more:

Local coverage of lawsuit:

Rural district leaders discuss the class size law:

Suburban Palm Beach perspective:

Read the FEA complaint here:

Read more from the August 2010 Rural Policy Matters.