There's a closet full of musical instruments gathering dust at Pompano Beach Elementary School. Drums, congas, maracas, marimbas, violins, sheet music, recorders and more, all locked up and unused. The music room has been converted to a regular classroom.
Why? The principal says look no further than the state's class size law.
"We're in this music room, beautiful music room that I'm using as a classroom and I have music equipment not being used because I can't afford a music teacher," says Principal Vince Dawes, "because of class size."
Three fifth-grade classes at the school are over the class size limit. The state law says kindergarten through third-grade classes must have no more than 18 students per teacher, fourth through eighth grade is limited to 22 students, and high school core classes are capped at 25 students.
The public school districts have to pay penalties to the state for every class period that violates the class-size law. Broward paid $1.3 million last year.
"It would've opened up a lot more opportunities over the past three to five years if we'd been able to keep that money and create more specialty programs for our students, " said Leslie Brown, who is in charge of compliance issues for the Broward County school district.
Brown says everyone wants smaller class sizes, but the district wants its schools walking the same walk that charter schools do. Class sizes in charter schools, which are public, are measured by a school-wide average, not period by period. Brown says switching regular public schools to the same formula would give them much-needed flexibility.
"It would allow us to have more specialized teachers in our schools rather than spend money only for teachers in the courses that are mandated by the state for class size reductions," Brown explained.
Regular public schools have to spend their money, Brown says, on core class size reduction instead of music, art, or Advanced Placement classes.
"There's a significant challenge in meeting class size as well as being able to allow for these specialized programs," Brown said.
For a principal on the front lines, it's a juggling act between what he wants to provide for his students and what he must try to provide by law. Dawes calls it a classic unfunded mandate.
"Ask yourself, if you were the teacher, would you rather have 21 kids or 28 kids? But the state doesn't give you enough funding to meet that," Dawes said.
The Broward schools say it's cheaper to pay the penalty than the $6 million the district says it needs every year to hire enough teachers to fully comply with the class size law.
The issue will be taken up by the legislature this year.