An Urgent Crisis, An Effective, Affordable Remedy

The California Experience

Some Amendment 9 critics have pointed to difficulties in implementing California’s 1996 class-size reduction law. But despite some bumps along the road, the California law has received emphatic praise from parents and educators. “This is the most positive thing that has happened,” said a public school principal in San Diego. “I can’t think of anything else like it.”113 There are several noteworthy differences between California’s law and our proposed Amendment 9—differences that will help ensure that Florida’s experience is even more positive than California’s.

Class Size: A Tale of Two States

California’s 1996 lawFlorida’s Amendment 9
Does the state fully fund the class-size reductions?No. Local districts must assume some costs.Yes. The state would be required to provide adequate funds to reduce class sizes.
Does the provision allow ample time for hiring additional teachers and creating additional classroom space?No. The state’s law didn’t provide districts with a multi-year period to prepare for the new limits.Yes. The amendment’s provisions would be phased in over an eight-year period.

First, the California program did not require all districts to participate, meaning children in some school districts may not reap the benefits.114 Florida’s Amendment 9 sets class-size limits for all school districts without loopholes. Second, the California program has been funded only partially by the state, leaving some low-income districts unable to cover the difference.115 By contrast, the class-size reductions in Florida’s Amendment 9 must be funded entirely by the state. Third, California’s class-size limits were implemented immediately, without a phase-in period. Florida’s Amendment 9 phases in the reductions over eight years, providing ample time for school districts to construct new facilities and recruit additional teachers.

These differences reflect the ways in which the framers of Amendment 9 have learned and benefited from California’s experience. Whatever shortcomings California has experienced, the bottom line is this: data show that the state’s class-size program has raised student achievement and increased parental satisfaction with their children’s public schools.116

Florida education officials reportedly reviewed the state’s experience with class-size reduction as part of preparing a report on Amendment 9. Given the hostility that state education officials have displayed toward Amendment 9, Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Thomas wrote, “If [the report] comes out in support of smaller classes, I will eat this page.”117 When the Board of Education released its report, Thomas wrote, “Keep the ketchup because I’m safe.” Thomas called the report a “hackneyed political position paper.”118

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