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    McBride lays out his education plan

    The Democrat wants an extra $1-billion for public schools. Some of it would come from cigarette taxes.

    By WES ALLISON, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published May 24, 2002


    TALLAHASSEE -- Bill McBride, Democratic candidate for governor, on Thursday unveiled his plan for improving public education, including spending $300-million to cut class sizes, a $2,500 pay raise for teachers and some politically challenging ways to pay for it all.

    McBride, a Tampa lawyer, announced his 60-page plan at a news conference in Tallahassee, where he called on Republican Gov. Jeb Bush to end the "disinformation" about the state of education under his administration.

    "This plan is one that I think will work. . . . And when I'm elected in November, I think the Legislature and the people will know we have spoken; and we have spoken with one voice, that we want education to be better," McBride said.

    McBride proposes an extra $1-billion for public schools, with just more than half of that coming from a new 50-cent tax on every pack of cigarettes. Another $101-million would come from closing sales tax exemptions and $100-million from trimming pet projects of lawmakers.

    McBride also aims to get $200-million by reallocating 1 percent of the state budget to education, though McBride did not say what would be cut. "I think I can find 1 percent," he said. "We'll fight it out."

    His goal of 22 students per class in kindergarten through third grade falls short of the 18 set by supporters of a constitutional amendment proposed for the November ballot. Still, McBride said he supports the initiative.

    McBride took issue Thursday with virtually all of Bush's initiatives, including a slight spending increase per student, a continued focus on standardized testing and private school vouchers for children who attend failing public schools.

    The leading Democratic candidate, Janet Reno, also advocates smaller classes and better teacher pay, but she has said only that the money would come from curbing waste and misuse of current funds. A Reno spokesman said she will release her plan soon.

    Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan defended Bush's education record and said McBride's plan suggests he doesn't understand how state government operates.

    Bush, Brogan said, "spends more time on education every day than good people like Bill McBride ever spent on education."

    As for McBride's call for removing sales tax exemptions, he noted that McBride is not targeting the $350-million exemption for legal services. He also said money vetoed from the state budget cannot be redirected to specific expenditures, demonstrating that McBride does not have a basic understanding of state government.

    -- Staff writer Steve Hegarty contributed to this report.

    McBride's plan

    Highlights of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill McBride's education plan:

    Increase spending by $300-million to reduce class sizes for K-3 to no more than 22 students.

    Raise teacher salaries $5,000 to the national average of $42,898, with an initial increase of $2,500.

    Expand pre-kindergarten instruction to include all 4-year-olds.

    Spend $100-million for remedial instruction.

    Revamp standardized testing and stop withholding money from schools whose students do poorly.

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