under-reviewA 2013 state law aimed at giving Florida public schools flexibility similar to that of charter schools has fast become a way for districts to avoid the most expensive provisions of the 2002 class-size reduction amendment.

The rule let campuses deemed “schools of choice” calculate their class size as a school average, rather than as strict classroom counts. Since it was passed, 61 percent of the state’s 3,041 district-run schools have gained the vaguely defined label. Key lawmakers said those numbers, released last week by the state Department of Education, increased their concerns that school districts are gaming the class-size system.

Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., chairman of the House Choice and Innovation subcommittee, said he expected the Senate to lead on this issue. He suggested the rapid rise in schools of choice “begs the question — what determines what a school of choice is?”

The Legislature could more clearly define the term “schools of choice,” which state Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart noted is now simply up to districts to decide. Or it could eliminate the schoolwide average loophole for all schools including charters.

Legg, who operates a charter, and Diaz, who works for a charter firm, both said they preferred to keep as much flexibility and choice in law as possible. Much will depend on how districts react, they said. “Are some of these schools being labeled just to get the flexibility? Or are they really doing something different?” Diaz said. “If we’re using this as a vehicle to get around the rules, we need to take a look at it.”

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