Small Classrooms, Big Headaches in the Sunshine State

See all posts

Florida Governor Jeb Bush is dangling a new carrot in front of teachers in hopes that they will support his proposed changes to the state's class-size amendment. Bush is offering to raise the minimum teacher salary to $35,000—up from a current average starting salary of $31,467–if voters agree to weaken the amendment's class size goals. As it stands now, Florida is constitutionally required to reduce class size to as few as 18 students in grades K-3 by 2010.

All along Bush has contended that the amendment will cost the state another $20 to $28 billion each year and that the costs will outweigh the benefits. Proponents of smaller classes dispute Bush’s reasoning and his figures, arguing that costs will be closer to $4 to $12 billion. But even so, a reduction in class sizes and a skyrocketing number of retirements will mean Florida has to hire the equivalent of 20 percent of its 150,000-teacher workforce by fall 2006 and continue to hire another 20,000 each year for the next ten years. This prospect has state officials using such terms as "near-apocalyptic." In fact, Commissioner John Winn said that if the state doesn't find a way to fix the problem soon, he sees "nothing short of a Great Depression in schools."

Florida's Democrats, indignant at the thought of having to choose between higher teacher pay and smaller classrooms, are promising that the "education governor" will face a tough fight.