Bush touts plan that would quash rule on class size

Published: Wednesday, January 25, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 24, 2006 at 11:28 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE - Saying the costs of building new classrooms were a "true hardship," Gov. Jeb Bush urged a conservative crowd Tuesday to help end a voter mandate to limit class sizes by forcing districts to spend a certain amount on classroom instruction.
Republican lawmakers are prepared to ask Floridians to vote in November to essentially end class-size reduction in exchange for a new mandate that would require school districts to spend 65 percent of their money in classrooms.
Bush called the class-size mandate a threat to districts since it inflicts "artificial numbers" on the limits of students in classrooms while failing to provide flexibility for districts.
The "65 percent solution" is a national effort led by First Class Education to force states to require school districts to spend at least 65 percent of their operating budget for classroom needs such as teacher salaries, computers and other supplies.
Supporters say it's a common sense way to force districts to spend money where it can do the most for students. Opponents say it's a gimmick geared to woo voters that sounds good, but has no correlation to the quality of education.
Republican sponsors of the amendment deflected questions about why the 65 percent solution had to be attached to a plan to essentially end the class-size reduction.
"By combining the two, I think what you're doing is establishing the framework for a commitment for spending more in the classroom," said Rep. Adam Hasner, R-Delray Beach.
Asked if the 65 percent plan was being used to politically soften the move to end class-size reduction, Hasner said, "I think good policy is good politics."
Sen. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, declined to say why the two plans were joined in one proposed constitutional amendment. He said that including the virtual ending of the class-size reduction with the 65 percent plan wasn't a political ploy, but simply an effort to allow voters to send "an even stronger message to the 'educrats' of this state."
Rep. Curtis Richardson, D-Tallahassee, said the 65 percent plan was a "gimmick" to "overturn the spirit and intent of the class-size amendment," adding that Floridians want class-size reduction and aren't likely to reverse their 2002 vote.
Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association, said districts weren't too concerned about the plan since lawmakers may define "in classroom" spending in a way that would mean most districts are already near the 65 percent limit.
Last year, Bush's proposal that coupled ending the class-size reduction in exchange for a beginning $40,000 salary for teachers failed in the Senate when South Florida Republicans said their teachers already made that much and had nothing to gain from such a plan.
Bush was speaking to a daylong meeting hosted by the James Madison Institute, a conservative think-tank based in Tallahassee.
Bush exhorted the friendly crowd to maintain his legacy of ideas that have made the state a "laboratory of reform" emulated by the nation. He pressed for a reversal of the state's Supreme Court ruling that found private school vouchers unconstitutional. He also pushed new ideas to pay math and science teachers more and to reward teachers whose students are high-performing. "Success is never final and reform is never finished," he said. "Don't let your candidates be timid. If we stand pat with what we've done that's the first day of the demise of reform."

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