Amendment to split up big school districts advancing

Published: Wednesday, January 11, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 10, 2006 at 9:15 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE - A proposed state constitutional amendment that would divide Florida's largest counties into anywhere from two to 18 school districts won approval from a House committee Tuesday.
Supporters said studies show smaller districts have better student performance while opponents argued the measure would set back racial integration and economic equality while creating costly new bureaucracies.
Each of Florida's 67 counties now has a single school district. The proposal (HJR 213) would set up a commission to divide counties with more than 45,000 students into multiple districts of less than 20,000 students each. The commission's decisions would be reviewed by courts to make sure they comply with state and federal law and would require approval by countywide referendum.
The House Prekindergarten-12 Committee voted 8-3 for the measure with all opposing votes by Democrats: Curtis Richardson and Loranne Ausley, both of Tallahassee, and Ken Gottlieb of Miramar.
The proposal has Gov. Jeb Bush's support although it's not necessary. The measure would go directly on the ballot if passed by the House and Senate.
Bush said Florida's large districts result in large schools, which he sees as a bigger problem for student achievement.
"I think it's worth considering it, but it ought to be done very thoughtfully and cautiously, a lot of hearings, a lot of discussion because it may have some unintended consequences," Bush said.
Florida School Boards Association executive director Wayne Blanton told the committee that it would require changing state funding formulas for school districts.
Richardson argued the amendment would be a step back from the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision that ordered an end to racial segregation in schools 50 years ago, striking down the separate-but-equal doctrine. "You will have the haves and the have-nots," Richardson said. Rep. Trey Traviesa, R-Tampa, called that "a tired argument."
The amendment, which next goes to the Education Appropriations Committee, would immediately affect 15 counties. Miami-Dade, the largest with 364,203 students, could be split 18 ways. The number of districts possible in other affected counties: Broward, 13; Hillsborough, Orange and Palm Beach, nine each; Duval, six; Pinellas, five; Lee and Polk, four each; Brevard, Pasco, Seminole and Volusia, three each, and Collier and Osceola, two each.

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