This year, $22.6 billion of taxpayer money will be spent to fund education in the Sunshine State. This significant investment of your hard-earned money makes up the second-largest budget category in Florida, falling behind only health care spending. While this seems like a daunting amount of money, every penny of the state’s budget is a precious and limited resource, and each cent spent on education must be used wisely to help every Florida student become college or career ready.
Though the state has made many smart investments to improve teacher quality and student performance, one costly policy has been holding back student achievement in Florida for nearly 12 years. Since 2002, Florida schools have made tough choices and budget cuts while spending more than $30 billion to build new schools and hire additional teachers to comply with an unnecessarily restrictive measurement of the state’s class size amendment requirements. Instead of investing in proven measures to increase accountability and student achievement, Florida has been pumping money into an idea that simply doesn’t work.
A nonpartisan report from Florida TaxWatch analyzes the opportunities to reform the state’s class size restrictions to better educate Florida students. The solution would reduce class size compliance costs and increase the investment in other, proven tools to increase student achievement. TaxWatch recommends that the state uniformly employ a class size calculation that is discriminately used for only some public schools, which would result in a multi-billion dollar savings for Florida taxpayers. By adjusting the calculation of class sizes to a school level average, schools would be able to keep classes small without handcuffing principals and administrators who are tasked with creating a positive learning environment for all students.
The billions of dollars saved by this small adjustment would allow school districts to invest in better teacher training programs, higher teacher salaries and more resources for students without ballooning class sizes. These are the tools that Florida teachers, taxpayers and families can count on to raise student achievement.
Fortunately, several Florida lawmakers have recognized the importance of these savings to Florida classrooms across the state. Last week, Representative George Moraitis and Senator Rene Garcia filed proposals (HB 665 and SB 818) to calculate compliance with constitutionally mandated class sizes according to a school average. This smart policy change would ensure more of the taxpayers' education investments are spent in Florida classrooms for Florida students.
After investing more than $30 billion to reduce class sizes with the expectation that smaller class sizes would result in improved student achievement, Florida taxpayers have little to show for their investment. It is past time to free up our investment in education so that we can make smart choices that work for Florida students, such as building smaller schools or funding teacher quality improvement tools that have a tangible impact on student achievement.
Join me in calling on the Florida Legislature to embrace the opportunity to truly invest in students and teachers in the Sunshine State. Let’s commit to being a community that supports education and improved achievement, and put an end to the cycle of writing bigger checks for more classrooms and bigger schools.
Appearing in: Pensacola News Journal, Tallahassee Democrat, Gainesville Sun, Ocala Star Banner, Tampa Tribune, Bradenton Herald, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Ft. Myers News Press, Palm Beach Post, South Florida Sun Sentinel