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Legislature

Schools left with questions about tuition, salaries

Universities and public schools can only wait and see what the fate will be for several bills.

By ANITA KUMAR and STEPHEN HEGARTY
Published May 1, 2003

TALLAHASSEE - This was the week Florida educators were dreading.

The state's public schools and universities were supposed to find out how much their budgets would be cut next year. Instead, state lawmakers gave up on passing a budget, leaving educators scrambling to estimate next year's spending without knowing how much money they have.

"It's clearly not an ideal situation," Education Commissioner Jim Horne said. "There are so many different people waiting."

Every major education issue in this legislative session hinges on the House and the Senate working out a budget deal.

The list includes university tuition increases, teacher salaries and how to pay for the amendment to reduce class sizes. It also affects decisions about raising the standards for Bright Futures scholarships and how to recruit teachers.

A bill that would have allowed the Hernando, Pasco and Polk school districts to save money by buying used textbooks fell victim to the budget feud.

The bill won unanimous support in the House, where several members wanted to expand a pilot project to the entire state. House budget writers proposed cutting state textbook spending by $50-million to reflect the savings they expected to generate with increased flexibility in textbook purchasing.

But the bill could not find its way to the Senate floor, despite the efforts of sponsor Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, to add the language to three bills.

"There are a lot of questions hanging out there, for sure," said John Hitt, president of the University of Central Florida in Orlando. "I don't know when the Legislature has had a tougher time."

The session will end Friday. Gov. Jeb Bush is expected to ask legislators to return next week for a special session.

Meanwhile, school districts and universities are guessing what the budget outcome might be as they try to plan for next year.

School officials think lawmakers will get a better perspective by getting out of Tallahassee, even for just a few days.

"We think it's a good thing," said Wayne Blanton, director of the Florida School Boards Association. "They're going to go back to their home districts and see what the budgets will do to their local schools."

But Pablo Paez, chairman of the Florida Student Association and student body president at Florida Atlantic University, said the longer lawmakers wait, the worse it is for Florida's students - who are sweating out a tuition increase.

"For a college student, an extra $300 is the difference between going to college and taking a semester off," he said. "You want a budget so you know what to do."

- Times staff writer Jeffrey S. Solochek contributed to this report.

Initiatives in danger

The Legislature will end its 60-day regular session Friday without passing a budget for next year. That threatens several major education initiatives, including:

The constitutional amendment to reduce class sizes in public schools.

Tuition increases for community college and university students.

Teacher pay hikes.

Changing the academic standards for Bright Futures scholarships.

Public school teacher recruitment and retention programs.

Funding for new students in Florida's universities and community colleges.

[Last modified May 1, 2003, 04:06:34]


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