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    House gambit forcing Senate to weigh teacher pay plan

    Linking that and the class size issues will strip money from higher education, Senate President Jim King warns.

    By ALISA ULFERTS, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 12, 2003

    TALLAHASSEE -- A House panel rolled two controversial bills into one Friday, effectively forcing the Senate to take up a teacher pay plan in order to reduce class sizes.

    That's not why they combined them, said members of the House Subcommittee on Education Appropriations.

    "The primary reason for combining them was fiscal, not political," said Rep. Joe Pickens, R-Palatka, sponsor of the House class size bill. "I kept seeing that they just were interdependent on each other in terms of who gets what funding and for what purpose."

    But Senate President Jim King said the move strips more money from higher education.

    "The House budget has $315-million in it for a teacher incentive plan that we fully endorse," King said. "If we had the money to do it, we would do it. But it takes it off the backs of the community colleges and universities and shortchanges them, and we just don't think that's the right thing to do."

    The House's combined bill is scheduled to go before the full House Appropriations Committee Tuesday.

    Rep. Charlie Justice, D-St. Petersburg, said he didn't think the two bills should have been blended. "I don't understand the purpose of it, other than a political purpose," Justice said.

    But Wayne Blanton, head of the Florida School Boards Association, said the change will get the House and Senate to the negotiating table faster. The two have passed budgets that are $1.4-billion apart.

    The Senate does not include vouchers, a $31,000 minimum teacher salary or bonuses for teachers who complete advanced training and certification.

    Under the original House teacher pay plan, the minimum starting pay for a Florida teacher would rise to $31,000 for the 2004-05 year. That would cost $70-million.

    The costliest part of the $315-million plan would create a career path for teachers, giving bonuses for excellence.

    -- Times staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.

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