THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA — Judge: Amendment 8 OK For Ballot
Sep 10, 2010
The following article was published by The News Service of Florida on September 10, 2010:
By MICHAEL PELTIER
THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Sept. 10, 2010… A proposal critics say lets state lawmakers off the funding hook for a 2002 amendment to limit class size remains on track to go before voters in November, following a circuit court ruling Friday that clears the way for its inclusion on the ballot.
Following up on promises of a speedy ruling, Leon County Circuit Court Chief Judge Charles Francis ruled that Amendment 8, a Legislative attempt to eliminate strict enrollment caps, was neither misleading nor ambiguous and can be included on the ballot with other proposed amendments.
The amendment, approved by lawmakers earlier this year, was challenged by the state’s largest teachers union, which argued that voters would be largely unaware that the proposal could result in reduced funding for public schools. In a 10-page ruling, Francis disagreed.
“The court finds the ballot and title summary are very clear and unambiguous as to what the amendment purports to do in reference to the changes in class size,” Francis wrote. “It revises them as plainly and simply as the title so indicates.”
The Florida Education Association, which filed suit to strike the issue from the ballot, plans to appeal, according to a statement issued by its attorney shortly after Francis released his ruling.
“The Legislature tried to ‘hide the ball’ from Florida voters by misrepresenting the chief purpose of Amendment 8 – which is to reduce the state’s obligation to adequately fund public schools,” FEA lawyer Ron Meyer said.
Facing stricter class standards that kicked in at school districts around the state this fall, lawmakers earlier this year approved changes to the 2002 class size amendment that gives school administrators flexibility in assigning students to classes. The FEA argued that it should be thrown off the November ballot because voters may not realize the proposal could change how much money schools receive from the state.
If approved by 60 percent of voters in November, the proposal would allow school officials to use averages instead of class by class totals when complying with class size requirements Currently, the caps are set at 18 students in kindergarten through third grade, 22 in fourth through eighth grade, and 25 in high school.
During a hearing before Francis earlier this week, Assistant Attorney General John Glogau argued the union could not produce any concrete figures as to how funding would change over the next few years.
School administrators have argued the tight caps have made it more difficult to set schedules and have resulted in some classes being cancelled and difficulty when they are at capacity and new students enroll in the district.
“The hard caps on class sizes this year have forced superintendents to make what they consider to be academically unsound decisions for students,” said Bill Montford, CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. “They need the flexibility to make reasonable and sound decisions that reflect what is best for the students from an academic standpoint.”
Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, argued that strictly adhering to the more inflexible caps would necessitate cuts elsewhere.
“The current hard caps on class size amount to a fiscal straightjacket on the wallets of hard-working Florida families,” Weatherford said.
U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, who spearheaded efforts to pass the 2002 cap, decried the ruling in a statement, saying the Republican-led Legislature’s proposal is an affront to the voters who only eight years earlier made it clear they wanted more money spent on schools.
“Amendment 8 is a misleading attempt to trick Florida voters into watering down hard-fought class size limits and reduce funding for our schools and children,” said Meek, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate. “Backers of Amendment 8 are full and active participants in the culture of special interest bidding that has gone on for too long.”