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The nation's most ambitious effort to reduce class sizes, which enjoyed a commanding lead in opinion polls for months, won narrow approval Tuesday while two other education initiatives passed easily.
The amendment to reduce class sizes became the dominant education issue of the 2002 campaign, with Gov. Jeb Bush campaigning against it almost as much as against challenger Bill McBride , who supported Amendment 9. Bush's relentless attacks clearly eroded the amendment's support.
But the fundamental appeal of smaller classes for Florida's schoolchildren was too much to overcome.
"When you have everyone in the state -- the governor, the superintendents, the community colleges -- opposing you, and the people of Florida speak out the way they did tonight, I think that says a lot," said Sen. Kendrick Meek, the driving force behind Amendment 9.
The biggest objection to the class-size cap was the potential price tag, which state economists estimated to be as high as $27.5-billion over the eight-year phase-in period. Bush and legislative leaders worried that the cost of the class-size cap would cripple the state budget. They have spent months issuing dire warnings of tax increases and cuts in services.
Asked by NBC's Tom Brokaw late Tuesday how he might pay for the class-size initiative, Bush said: "Well, you either have to cut spending, or you have to increase taxes, and that's a dilemma that I posed to the people of the state.
"I have a record of tax cutting, as one of the leading ones in the country. And I've said we would have to raise taxes, because the cuts would have to be so dramatic in environmental programs, in programs for the developmentally disabled, for the needy, that we couldn't do it with cuts alone."
Opponents also warned that a strict cap on class sizes would mean students might be forced to attend school across town and that some schools would be forced to rely more on portables.
Even educators worried that the quality of teachers would suffer because so many would have to be hired for all the new classrooms required by the amendment.
By 2010, the amendment requires that Florida's classrooms be limited to 18 children in prekindergarten through third grade, 22 in grade four through eight, and 25 children in high school classes. No other state has such an ambitious class-size policy.
Amendment 8, to extend free prekindergarten for all 4-year-olds, enjoyed nearly universal support among state leaders, and faced no organized opposition -- and it showed on Election Day.
The program is strictly voluntary and must be in place by the 2005 school year. State economists estimated the cost of the amendment at between $425-million and $650-million. Despite that, and the expansion of the role of government, it had no significant opposition. Even Bush, who did not make prekindergarten a priority in his first term, supported it.
"I think it should be free for all 4-year-olds, so they can get off to a good start," Tevicka Porter, 24, of St. Petersburg said after she voted. Amendment 11, restoring a statewide university governing board, seemed to confuse many voters, according to recent polls. But on Election Day, voters embraced it.
"I'm not surprised it passed," said U.S. Sen. Bob Graham , the initiative's architect. "I'm pleased it passed by such a large margin. It shows people understand and care about state universities."
The amendment calls for a two-tier system to oversee the state's 11 public universities. A Board of Governors would establish statewide policy and spend money, while local boards of trustees would oversee individual universities.
That two-tiered system is modeled after the boards that oversee North Carolina's highly regarded university system.
It would mean a return of a statewide board devoted solely to universities. Bush and the Republican-controlled Legislature abolished the Board of Regents last year and gave the authority of overseeing universities to the Florida Board of Education, which has responsibility for all state education, from kindergarten to postgraduate studies.
Carolyn Roberts, the Florida Board of Education member who led the opposition to Amendment 11, said, "I never underestimated the strength of the proponents for Amendment 11. I'm disappointed . . . but we'll move forward. The voters have spoken."
Graham, a Democrat, adamantly opposed Bush's elimination of the Board of Regents, which ran Florida's universities for 36 years. A former state governor who considers Florida's universities an integral part of his legacy, Graham crafted a compromise between the old and new systems.
In January, the Board of Education will no longer oversee the state's public universities. But it's unclear how the amendment will be implemented and some already are predicting confusion and legal disputes.
Many voters knew little about Amendment 11. But the concept of a statewide board and local boards appealed to them.
-- Staff writer Lucy Morgan contributed to this report.