A. Definitions and Parameters
During the preliminary discussions about implementing Amendment 9 questions have come up about what the amendment actually requires. Following is a summary of the key questions that have arisen to date:
What is the difference between pupil-teacher ratio and actual class size? Perhaps the most important issue with regard to definitions and requirements of the amendment concerns the distinction between pupil-teacher ratio and class size. Floridians voted to reduce “the maximum number of students who are assigned to each teacher”—meaning a ratio of one classroom teacher to a specific number of students in that classroom. Pupil-teacher ratio, on the other hand, is calculated by counting the total number of all students in a school and comparing this figure to the total number of teachers and other staff in that school. While administrators, librarians, counselors, teacher’s aides, reading specialists, media specialists and other staff play a critical role in our schools, counting these personnel and dividing it against the student body does not reflect class size. For this reason, the pupil-teacher data currently collected by the state (number of students measured against the entire staff) underestimates the extent of classroom overcrowding in our public schools. How should class size “averages” be determined? First and foremost, accurate data must be collected before a final recommendation can be acted on by the Legislature. A variety of data are needed, including:
the number of students in each classroom, by grade the school average the school average, by grade the district average the district average, by grade
Districts should rank their schools using this data and prioritize funds around those public schools that are most severely overcrowded.
What is the definition of a classroom? A classroom is a permanent structure with one class and one teacher. What is the definition of a class? The amendment specifically exempts “extracurricular” classes such as physical education and chorus and should not apply to distance-learning classes. Will vouchers for private schools count toward compliance with Amendment 9? No. The pre-Nov. 5 debate over Amendment 9 focused considerably on the costs of constructing additional classrooms in public schools – and voters approved the amendment with this clear understanding. Trying to implement the amendment through a voucher program that utilizes private school classrooms would amount to a “bait and switch” that disrespects the intent of Florida voters. Vouchers wouldn’t be a viable alternative in any case due to a lack of capacity at private schools to accommodate the number of students necessary and the considerable number of voucher students now returning to public schools. Furthermore, a cloud hangs over the future of the state’s voucher programs in the wake of last year’s circuit court ruling declaring the so-called A+ voucher program unconstitutional. Should charter schools be exempted from the class-size caps in Amendment 9? No. The voters who approved the class-size initiative intended for the amendment to benefit children in all public schools, which includes charter schools. There are 50,000 children attending charter schools in Florida. 3 It would be wrong to deny these students smaller classes. Should approaches such as multi-tracking and block scheduling be used to implement Amendment 9? We believe it is best left to local school districts to determine if these last tier temporary options such as double sessions, rotating or block scheduling are viable for their communities.