by Fred Seely
Two more top state officials made it clear last week that Florida’s future is endangered if voters approve a constitutional amendment mandating the number of students in public school classrooms.
Education Commissioner Jim Horne and Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan both were in Jacksonville — for different reasons — but the message from both was about the Nov. 5 election.
“If we pass this, we’re going to follow in the footsteps of California, which passed a similar mandate and which found it had a disaster on its hands,” said Horne, speaking to the Sales and Marketing Council of the local builders’ association. “They had to hire 6,000 additional teachers. Not only were most unqualified, most were incompetent.”
The California vote mandated smaller classes for kindergarten through third grade; Florida’s goes all the way through high school.
“We have a teacher shortage now and this will exacerbate it,” said Brogan, who visited the Chamber’s Small Business Center at Gateway Mall in between campaign stops. “It is the wrong way to address this. It will present a massive financial problem; if this is passed, it will be the largest mandate which full has strings attached.”
Both estimated the constitutional mandate would cost some $27 million over an 8-year period.
“The state’s revenues are about $22 billion a year,” said Horne. “We’re squeezed for money now. If we have this, the money will have to come from someplace . . . like existing programs.
“We can foresee the legislature having to raise the sales tax at least 1 1/2 percent, maybe 2 1/2. You can count on one thing: tourists will go somewhere else.”
He added another warning: “We’re just getting to the point where we are getting rid of portable classrooms. If this passes, we’re back in that unwanted situation. Folks, there will be a portable coming to a neighborhood near you.”
Horne said classroom sizes are coming down.
“We have something like one, one and a half kids fewer than 4-5 years ago,” said the Orange Park resident. “Yes, we have some problems. I was in Miami yesterday visiting a school and there were 37 kids in the classroom. That’s terrible. But there are good things going on all over the state, too.”