Throughout the fall, Florida voters heard critics of Amendment 9 raise concerns about cost. In the end, the people spoke: Despite the significant cost of class-size reduction, Floridians firmly believed that this investment was not only urgently needed, but also affordable.
Recent financial data has demonstrated the wisdom of the voters in drawing this conclusion. Just recently, the state Board of Education projected that Amendment 9’s first-year operational costs would be $628 million. This is incredibly close to the $625 million first-year estimate provided by the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research (EDR). Interestingly, EDR’s eight-year estimated cost of $4-12 billion was rejected by political appointees who settled on a much higher estimate that many observers criticized as inflated.
Yet, as state officials consider funding for Amendment 9, it is worth remembering that this initiative’s long-term impact is likely to reduce costs in other areas. As the U.S. Department of Education has pointed out, the cost of class-size reduction “can be offset by the resulting decrease in within-grade retentions, reduced high school dropout rates, a diminished need for remedial instruction and long-term special education services, and increased teacher satisfaction and retention.” 14 Making needed investments in new classrooms will not only boost our state’s economy in the short term, but also in the long term. When the Florida Senate voted in April of 2002 to support a class-size reduction amendment, these lawmakers put themselves on record behind the view that “investments in smaller class sizes lead to high student achievement and higher lifetime income and earning power.” 15
Amid a slow economy, Florida faces tough decisions. As voters went to the polls, they were well aware of the budgetary challenges our state was facing. Approving Amendment 9 was voters’ way of informing their elected leaders that—even in this difficult environment—there is no higher priority than the children in Florida’s public schools. For these voters, it is simply unthinkable, regardless of the fiscal environment, to allow our state to continue to admit more children to already overcrowded classrooms. It is simply unacceptable that Florida continue to rank 50th out of 50 states in per-capita education spending, condemning our children to the consequences of such funding deficiencies.
Fully and faithfully implementing Amendment 9 will enable Florida’s leaders to remedy these problems and complete the mission set by the voters who elected them. This document serves as a tool for legislators and the governor to plot a course for implementing Amendment 9 appropriately.
The Coalition to Reduce Class Size and People For the American Way have made a commitment to voters to help ensure that the will expressed by Floridians on Nov. 5 is respected. Together, we will remain vigilant to help complete this mission, working cooperatively with elected officials from both parties. PFAW and the Coalition will help voters hold the Legislature and the governor accountable for implementing Amendment 9 in good faith.