TALLAHASSEE - The Legislature struck a deal late Friday night to create a program to provide prekindergarten to all 4-year-olds.
The compromise came late on the last day of the legislative session when House leaders agreed to accept the Senate's version of the plan after days of bickering.
It's unclear whether Gov. Jeb Bush will veto the bill.
Earlier this week, Bush said he was prepared to veto the measure because it likely fell short of what voters wanted when they approved a constitutional amendment in November 2000. He said it would be better to revisit the issue next year.
Lawmakers won't appropriate money for the effort this year.
The constitutional amendment requires the state to offer a "high-quality prekindergarten learning opportunity" to tens of thousands of 4-year-olds by 2005.
But legislators and early learning advocates disagree about what "high quality" means.
Bush's task force recommended high standards: All teachers should be credentialed; teachers would be responsible for no more than 10 students; anyone who offered a program must seek accreditation, and children would be in class six hours a day.
But lawmakers, worried about costs, pulled back.
A child who turns 4 on or before Sept. 1 of each school year would be given a voucher to attend an eligible public or private prekindergarten program.
Aimed at giving young children a head start on school, prekindergarten attendance is voluntary. But education officials estimate about 70 percent, or 150,000, of the state's 4-year-olds will enroll in fall 2005.
Both chambers voted along party lines. Democrats encouraged members to reconsider the bill next year.
"We are shortchanging our children," said Rep. Nan Rich, D-Weston. "I urge you to think about the children."
"This bill is not any better than the bill that passed out of here," said Rep. Loranne Ausley, D-Tallahassee. "I urge you to start over next year."
A slew of more controversial education bills were still awaiting action late Friday, including one that one provide more accountability to the troubled voucher program.
One bill that did go to the governor will require Florida high school students who want to graduate a year early to work harder, a move aimed at curbing the number of students taking advantage of the program.
Education officials, including university and high schools leaders, complained that too many students weren't adequately prepared for college.
"We like it because it keep the kids in schools because that's how they learn," said Chuck Kiker, a lobbyist for the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association. "We're concerned about 16-year-olds running around campuses."
The bill modifies a law the Legislature passed last year designed to shrink class sizes.
The accelerated graduation program was designed to offer ambitious high schoolers a way to graduate with fewer credits, but education officials said they fear students aren't ready academically or emotionally for college life. They are also worried that skeptical universities would not accept an abbreviated high school education.
Now, if the governor agrees, high school students who want to graduate in three years would need a 3.0 grade point average and six of 18 credits in advanced classes.
Legislators sought the bill last year as they searched for cheap ways to meet a constitutional mandate to reduce class sizes in public schools.
The original law allowed students to graduate in three years with 18 credits instead of the traditional four years with 24 to 29 credits and a 2.0 GPA.
High school superintendents reported that most of the students who expressed interest in the program were struggling and were eager to finish high school.
"There was a lot of concern all over the place," said Kathy Betancourt, a lobbyist for the University of South Florida. "It was a law of unintended consequences. The Legislature recognized that."
A flurry of other education bills were sent to Gov. Jeb Bush in the final hours of the session. They would:
Require school districts to allow midyear promotions for third-graders who can't read at grade level but later catch up. Students who fail third grade would need to spend 90 minutes of every school day reading.
Under current law, third-graders can't be promoted unless they pass the reading portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test or show by an alternative method that they can read at grade level.
Allow high school seniors who have failed the FACT to obtain their diplomas by achieving certain scores on standardized tests, such as the SAT or ACT.
The measure is similar to one passed last year to help struggling seniors. About 125 students used the alternate tests to graduate.
Postpone for a year a new pay plan requiring school districts to create four levels of teaching positions and set salaries accordingly.
Allow charter schools to collect revenue from impact fees. The bill's sponsor, state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, said the fees would give developers an incentive to build new schools. Historically, the impact fees have been distributed by school districts.
Require new background checks for state education employees and change the requirements of those entering into teacher preparation programs or applying for teacher certification.