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Agreement on class size running out of time

The Senate adopts the plan, but the House probably won't vote on the measure.

Published May 2, 2003

TALLAHASSEE - The Senate on Thursday approved a last-minute compromise to reduce class sizes in public schools, but it may be too late to pass the measure before the Legislature adjourns today.

House Speaker Johnnie Byrd said late Thursday he would not waive a rule requiring two days before voting on an amended bill, the only way the House could consider the Senate bill today.

"In order to take the smoke out of the smoke-filled room you have to require things to be done methodically," said Byrd, R-Plant City.

Lawmakers could meet the mandate of the class size provision of the Constitution by adding language into the state budget when they return later this month.

It's unclear whether that will happen.

"If we can't get the class size deal done now, we'll deal with it next year," said Gov. Jeb Bush, who decides what the Legislature must do when it returns for a special session.

But Senate President Jim King and others say lawmakers must implement the amendment this year so school districts can shrink classes starting in the fall.

"I don't know if we could wait without being in violation of the constitutional amendment," said King, R-Jacksonsville.

The amendment, approved by voters in November, requires by 2010 no more than 18 students per classroom in prekindergarten through third grade, 22 pupils in grades 4 to 8 and 25 students in high school.

The House and Senate each passed significantly different bills earlier in the legislative session. On Thursday, the Senate moved closer to the House's version but refused to take up its request to dramatically expand school vouchers.

"It's the best we think we can do," said Sen. Lee Constantine, chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

The Senate bill (CS-SB 1436) included expanding a tax credit program for businesses that fund private scholarships; reducing the number of credits needed to graduate from high school from 24 to 18 and implementing a teacher career plan.

But the two still disagree on setting a minimum teacher salary, a teacher career pay plan and giving vouchers to students who enroll in a "virtual school," where they learn from home on a computer provided at government expense.

- Staff writers Lucy Morgan and Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.

[Last modified May 2, 2003, 02:31:39]

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