Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla Files Bill to Kill Class-Size Fines
Measure would eliminate accountability for class-size amendment
Around the State
School districts in 26 Florida counties are facing $31 million in fines for going over the class-size limits, but they won’t have to worry about similar fines in the future if legislation filed Thursday by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, is passed.
The bill would eliminate the “accountability” section of the statute dealing with class-size caps, cancelling the financial penalties incurred by school districts that ignore the class-size amendment passed by voters in 2002.
If the bill becomes law, it will not become effective until later this year, but could still impact the current fines. School districts that violated the caps have the option of submitting a plan for compliance to the Board of Education by Feb. 15, and would receive back 75 percent of their fine. If a school district is not in compliance with the law when students are counted in October, however, the process of levying fines on the district would start anew. Diaz de la Portilla’s bill throws that process into question.
The Miami-Dade County School District, part of which is represented by Diaz de la Portilla, was fined $6.6 million for exceeding the class-size caps, but the school district that would be most affected by the bill would be the Palm Beach School District, which incurred $15.8 million in fines -- more than half the total for public schools.
Voters knocked down an attempt to reduce the limits last year when Amendment 8, which would have eased the caps, failed at the ballot box.
Supporters of Amendment 8 -- school administrators, legislators -- said the measure will not erode the original class-size amendment but will give districts greater flexibility in organizing their schools. Amendment 8 was also thought to have eased the financial burden on school districts, under strain during the recession and continuing weak economy, with administrators claiming that money was being spent on building new schools to comply with the caps rather than on existing classrooms.
Florida classrooms are required to have 18 or less students in prekindergarten through third grade, 22 or less students in fourth through eighth grade, and 25 or less students in high school classes. Implementation of the law was done gradually, first at the district-wide and then the school-wide level. The current school year was the first year schools were to comply at the individual classroom level.
School districts have already received a reprieve, of sorts, from the class-size fines this year. As many as 35 districts faced $40.7 million in initial fines before many of them appealed, resulting in a total deduction of $9.4 million, with nine districts having their entire penalty wiped away. For the 44 charter schools that received nearly $2.3 million in initial fines, 41 appealed and 38 had their total fine eliminated, resulting in merely $355,000 in fines for six charter schools.
Calls and e-mails to Diaz de la Portilla’s office were not returned Friday.
Reach Gray Rohrer at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (850) 727-0859.