The Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) has proposed an amendment to the Florida Constitution (P0090) that would permit public school districts to comply with Florida’s class size limits on a school-level average instead of the current maximum class size. Any savings would be applied towards raising teacher salaries to the national average.
The Florida Department of Education reports average teacher salaries of $47,858 for the 2016-17 school year. This is approximately $11,000 less than the average teacher salary nationwide. To bring the average salary for Florida’s 174,000 public school teachers up to the national average, P0090 would have to generate more than $1.9 billion dollars in annual savings. When fringe benefits are included, the required annual savings exceed $2.6 billion.
The State of Florida has invested $40 billion to reduce class sizes, with the expectation that smaller class sizes will result in improved academic performance. The most definitive study of class size reduction in Florida (Chingos, 2010) found that class size reduction had no discernable impact upon student achievement, either positive or negative.
There is no substitute to having a highly-skilled, well-trained teacher in every classroom. Concerns about the decline in teacher quality that accompanies the hiring of so many new teachers to fill the new classrooms cannot be overemphasized. The increase in the number of teachers with limited experience and credentials dampens any benefits of smaller classes, particularly in schools with high percentages of minority and economically disadvantaged students.
The CRC would be well-advised to consider amending P0090 to maintain the current maximum class size of 18 students in grades pre-kindergarten through grade 3. Florida’s current focus on limiting class sizes to 18 students in pre-kindergarten through grade 3 is consistent with many studies that show that the greatest influence on student achievement occurs when class size is reduced to fewer than 20 students, especially in the first years of elementary school.
If reinvesting the savings from P0090 into teacher salaries keeps highly-skilled, well-trained teachers in the classroom, then that will be money well-spent.