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Aaron Sharockman
By Aaron Sharockman March 24, 2010

State Sen. Don Gaetz puts the tab for class size at $16 billion -- so far

A school superintendent turned state Senator wants to relax a requirement that the state continue shrinking K-12 class sizes.

State Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, says that while a 2002 constitutional amendment mandating smaller classes has produced positive results, the expensive cost in a weak economy don't justify a continued investment.

Gaetz, the former superintendent in Okaloosa County, thinks voters might get sticker shock if they heard how much taxpayers already have spent implementing the state's class amendment.

"The cost of class size so far: $16 billion," Gaetz said on the Senate floor March 23, 2010.

That's an awful lot of money -- about a quarter of the total annual state budget. Put another way, with $16 billion the state could build new baseball stadiums in St. Petersburg and Miami ($1 billion), fund NASA's mission to put people back on the moon for two years ($2.5 billion) and give every Floridian $500 ($8.8 billion). With what's left over -- $3.7 billion -- the state could fund every Congressional campaign in 2010.

Has the cost been that large?

First, some background about the class-size amendment.

In November 2002, Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment that sets limits for how many students are allowed per class starting in the 2010-11 school year. The limits are no more than 18 students for grades K-3, no more than 22 students for grades 4-8 and no more than 25 students for grades 9-12.

In 2003, the state started to slowly implement the changes. First, classroom reductions were measured at the school district average, then at the school average. This fall, districts are scheduled to meet the new limits in every classroom.

But Gaetz wants to freeze the class-size reduction program. His proposed amendment to the constitution would require schools to meet class-size averages, instead of the exact numbers in every room. The proposal must be approved by three-fifths of the Legislature and 60 percent of voters in November if it is to become law.

As for the costs, Gaetz is nearly right on.

The House PreK-12 Appropriations Committee received a class size update from the state Department of Education in January. The report on class size, which you can see here (starts on page 36), includes a breakdown of the operating and capital costs to implement the class size amendment.

The total cost listed in the report actually is slightly more than $19 billion, but that includes the money requested for the 2010-2011 school year.

Counting only the money that's already been allocated, the cost so far is $15.8 billion, according to the same report. A Senate staff analysis of Gaetz's bill includes the same $15.8 billion figure.

Gaetz said on the Senate floor that the cost so far implementing mandatory class size reductions has been $16 billion. The Florida Department of Education puts the bill at $15.8 billion to date, and could spend another $3.2 billion next year. We rate Gaetz's claim True.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

Florida Senate, SJR 2

Florida Senate, SJR 2 staff analysis

Florida Department of Education, "Class size reduction in Florida's public schools," Questions and Answers

Tallahassee Democrat, "Florida Senate debates class-size amendment," March 23, 2010

PolitiFact Florida, "Florida Democrat says state last among Southeast states in average class size," Feb. 6, 2010

Florida House of Representatives, "Update on the Class Size Amendment," Jan. 12, 2010

Florida Department of Education, E-mail interview with spokeswoman Deborah Higgins, March 24, 2010.

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State Sen. Don Gaetz puts the tab for class size at $16 billion -- so far

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