Florida schools face $31 million in fines for violating class size rules

4:42 PM, Jan 18, 2011   |    comments
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Tallahassee, Fla. -- The State Board of Education has ruled 28 schools districts should pay $31 million in fines for violating Florida's class size rules.

The board approved the fines on Tuesday for districts that failed to meet the state's new stricter standards for class size.

Hillsborough and Pinellas counties were able to comply and received no fines.  Duval County faces a fine of nearly $1.5 million for having too many students in classes.

Florida's class-size constitutional amendment limits students to 18 in prekindergarten through third grade, 22 in fourth through eighth and 25 in high school.

The Florida School Boards Association opposes the school fines.  Attorney Ron Meyer says schools are ready to sue the state to stop the fines because lawmakers did not give schools enough cash to meet the class size rules.

"Now is not the time to hold money back from school districts and it's especially unfair when the failure of the districts, that the State Board has now found to have occurred, results from the failure of the Legislature to provide the adequate funding."

Meyer says he hopes schools and the state can work together to come up with a reasonable solution to the issue, rather than going to court.

"So that we're not in court wasting money, wasting resources and time, but rather we're working together to come up with some good faith solutions."

Originally, the state Department of Education levied fines of more than $40 million for class size violations.  But many of the out-of-compliance school districts appealed and Education Commissioner Eric Smith lowered fines by $9 million.

Now the school fines require final approval from the Legislative Budget Commission, which consists of 14 lawmakers from the House and Senate.

"And they're going to give final approval on if the commissioner's recommendations are accepted or if the original penalty amount of $40.8 million stands and is levied."

The commission meets on February 15th.

Department of Education spokesman Tom Butler says out-of-compliance districts can submit a compliance plan now.

"The ones who were out of compliance can show how they're going to come back into compliance next year and if they do that, they can limit the amount of the penalty that's going to be levied against them.  So some of that money that would be leaving their funding pool would be put back in."

Money from the school fines will ultimately be awarded to schools that did comply with the class size rules, as well as districts that put together a plan to come into compliance.

Palm Beach County faces the highest amount of fines, nearly $16 million. 

Dave Heller

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