County Election Supervisors Validate 510,000 Signatures; Coalition Leaders Launch Campaign for Voter Approval of Pro-Education, Pro-Business, Anti-Crime Initiative
Supporters of the class-size reduction initiative today celebrated county election officials’ validation of more than 510,000 signatures, well more than the 489,000 needed to put the initiative on the November ballot.
"This is a great day for Florida and its schoolchildren," said Ralph G. Neas, president of People For the American Way, a national organization with offices in Miami and Tallahassee and 35,000 members and supporters in Florida. "Not only is this a pro-education initiative, but this is also a pro-business and anti-crime initiative. This is an important first step toward a brighter and more prosperous future for the children and the state."
Neas was joined by other leaders of the Coalition to Reduce Class Size, including State Senator Kendrick Meek, the coalition’s founder and chair; Aaron Wallace, chief of staff, Florida Education Association; Dr. Anthony Viegbesie, vice president, Florida State Conference, NAACP; Cloreta Morgan, Executive Vice President, SEIU Local 1199-Florida; Joe Minor, Senior Coordinator, United Teachers of Dade; and teachers Claudette McCann from Springwood Elementary and Rashecia McNeil from Canopy Oaks Elementary.
Coalition leaders released county-by-county tallies of the more than 510,000 signatures validated by local election officials and called on the Secretary of State’s office to certify the initiative well before the August 6 deadline.
The initiative would amend the Florida constitution to require the Legislature to bring public school class sizes below specific caps. The state, not local school districts, would be responsible for funding necessary investments in new classrooms and teachers. The initiative would be phased in, giving lawmakers and school officials eight years to reach the target goals.
"Too many of Florida’s classrooms are too crowded for children to learn," said Neas. "Elected officials have failed to deal with the problem. Now it’s up to Florida voters to do what state officials have not."
Several published polls have shown broad public support for the class-size reduction initiative, support that cuts across lines of age, geography, political party, race and ethnicity.
"Public support for this initiative rests on common sense and direct experience," said Neas. "Everyone knows that there is a huge difference between a classroom with 18 children and a classroom with 35. And that gut instinct is backed by solid evidence. At least 17 studies have confirmed that significantly reducing class size can make a long-lasting difference in student achievement. Schools in Wisconsin, Tennessee, California, and Texas have boosted academic performance by reducing class sizes. Let’s add Florida to that list."
Neas rejected recent suggestions by Gov. Jeb Bush that Florida could not afford to meet class size reduction targets over the next eight years. He noted that cost estimates cited by the governor in recent days were approved by three political appointees over the objections of the estimating conference’s only nonpartisan representative, Ed Montanaro, one of the most respected economists in the state.
"Florida can’t afford not to reduce class sizes," said Neas. "Florida ranks 43rd in the nation in student teacher ratio, 46th in the nation on SAT scores, and 49th for graduation rates and per capita education spending. And class sizes are still going up. How bad do things have to be before state leaders act? We don’t think voters want to wait any longer."
Coalition leaders will now turn their energies to mobilizing voters around the potential impact that the initiative could have on students’ educational achievement and the state’s economic vitality.
"Reducing class sizes will make a huge difference, not only for Florida’s students, but for Florida’s future." Neas said. "This is going to be an exciting campaign."