As a Florida Constitutional amendment to limit high school class size to 25 students comes into effect in the 2010-2011 school year, students and teachers are realizing that this insufficiently funded piece of state legislation, which might have appeared desirable on paper, may be doing more harm than good.
Since its passage in 2002, according to the Florida House of Representatives’ PreK-12 Appropriations Committee, the hard cap has cost the Florida legislature just over 19 billion dollars in faculty training, salaries, and classroom construction, to name a few. Even so, this outrageous sum has proven to be inadequate for successful implementation.
Miami Beach Senior High school has fallen victim to this most expensive, paradoxical policy. On the surface, a smaller class size would appear to relieve a considerable amount of pressure from the lives and jobs of teachers and students; smaller classes, under the right circumstances, mean more personal time with teachers in a more intimate classroom environment. But with no capacity for a larger payroll as a result of a pitifully underfunded school district, Beach High must cope with an inadequate budget that cannot accommodate the opening of new classes and the redistribution of students.
As a result, the policy only works out well for the 25 fortunate students that are able to find their way into a desired course. But what about the obscene number of students who weren’t able to take an Advanced Placement science class their senior year because AP Environmental Science capped out far too early to support the demand? Or the prospective math majors who were closed out of the AP Statistics class?
This posed a major dilemma for Principal Rosann Sidener and her team, who were given an insufficient damage control budget. With a little bit of ingenuity and a whole lot of sacrifice (counselors are still wading through stacks of schedule-change requests), the administration conceived a number of improvised solutions to this problem.
In the past, nearly every AP science class was accompanied by an “AP Laboratory” period, which doubled the amount of time that the class met. These extra 3 to 4.5 hours per week of class were necessary in covering sufficient course material for the AP test. This class has been dissolved, an administrative strategy used to avoid expending new supplements to teachers who have already been forced to open new AP classes to accommodate the spillover. For similar reasons, entire classes like Anatomy and Physiology have been completely shut down, provoking uproar amongst the student body.
Because the new law only applies to “core” classes, elective and language classes have suffered the burden of absorbing the students who were unable to find their way into the more selective courses. It is not uncommon to find a Spanish or Portuguese class packed wall-to-wall; even AP language classes have grown substantially. In an even more desperate attempt to cut the budget, the administration has combined various levels of classes, which has led to a disappointing learning experience for more advanced students.
So as we enter the new school year, an experiment in frugality has commenced, with we most sacred students as the guinea pigs.
Florida Constitution Amendment 8, initiated by Florida Senator Don Gaetz, will appear on your ballot in November. If approved by a 60-percent majority, a new 30-student average class size cap will be implemented, a relief from the current 25-student hard cap. This will not only slash the budget tremendously, but it will give more students the opportunity to take their desired classes.