If Amendment 8, proposed by the Florida legislature, passes, it would impact the number of students allowed in every classroom in all Florida public schools.

A summary of Amendment 8‘s proposed language for the November ballot states that “the current limits on the maximum number of students assigned to each teacher in public school classrooms would become limits on the average number of students assigned per class to each teacher, by specified grade grouping, in each public school.”

The Florida PTA opposes Amendment 8, saying:

This amendment proposes to revise the current constitution and calculate class size on a school wide average rather than actual class size. PTA supports class size reduction proposals that consider actual class size, meaning the number of students in a teacher’s room for whom that teacher is accountable.

Amendment 8 language also states that the amendment ”also adopts new limits on the maximum number of students assigned to each teacher in an individual classroom as follows: for pre-kindergarten through grade 3, 21 students; for grades 4 through 8, 27 students; and for grades 9 through 12, 30 students.”

In 2002, Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment to limit class sizes — making the legislature responsible to fund class-size reduction measures.

The Florida Constitution currently caps the number of students per classroom at 18 for pre-kindergarten through grade 3, 22 for grades 4 through 8, and 25 for grades 9 through 12.

According to an August 2010 Harvard University study on Florida’s reduced class sizes, “the total cost to implement this policy is currently estimated at about $20 billion over eight years, with continuing operating costs of about $4 billion per year in subsequent years.”

The Sun-Sentinel reports:

[Amendment 8 is] a high-stakes issue that could affect every public school in the state.

Under Amendment 8, school districts could use schoolwide averages instead of strict, classroom-by-classroom counts to measure compliance with the state’s class-size law.

Supporters say Amendment 8 makes it easier to be in compliance, because it allows flexibility. But opponents say students perform better in smaller classes and the Legislature is trying to get out of its requirement to properly fund schools.

Despite their low-key approach, each side has organizational backing: the Florida School Boards Association and the Florida Chamber of Commerce are in favor, while the PTAs and unions oppose it.

But supporters face the tougher battle. Eight years ago, 52 percent of voters amended the state constitution to restrict class sizes. However, new laws now require 60 percent of voters to agree to amend the constitution.

Opponents led by outgoing state Sen. Alex Villalobos, R-Miami, argue Amendment 8 is simply a way for the Legislature to avoid giving more money to schools.

The Vote No on 8 website states that “the legislature is trying to trick voters into supporting Amendment 8 to undermine the progress we’ve made. That’s why parents and teachers across Florida are standing up and saying ‘No on 8′ so we can keep reasonable class sizes where teachers can teach and students can learn.”

Florida Department of Education data for 2009-2010 shows the current average class size for Pre-K to third grade is 16 students, grades 4 through is 19, and grades 9 through 12 is 22.

In a September update, the nonprofit Florida School Board Association cites a Florida Tax Watch report (.pdf) “showing the potential state savings of between $350 million to $1 billion annually if Amendment 8 passes.”

The Sun-Sentinel adds:

This year, both Democrat Alex Sink and Republican Rick Scott favor Amendment 8, removing it as a campaign difference that would generate free publicity.

The Florida Education Association is asking the state Supreme Court on Oct. 6 to block votes on the amendment from being counted on the grounds the language of the amendment is misleading. A lower court rejected the union’s earlier effort to strike the amendment from the ballot.

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