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Smith, Gallagher say they'd try to get more poor kids in college

Published June 15, 2006

TAMPA - Two gubernatorial candidates agree that Florida needs to do more to ensure that low-income students get a chance at a college education.

But the timetables outlined by Rod Smith, a Democrat, and Tom Gallagher, a Republican, are years apart.

The two spoke Wednesday at the annual meeting of the Florida Association of Colleges and Universities.

Smith, a state senator, said he would immediately work to change the way state scholarships are awarded, to direct more money to families who can't afford tuition. Wealthier families would get less help.

"I know some people that ... the basis for the current scholarship is the fact it's been the best deal in the world for the BMW dealer," Smith said. "The fact is their parents have plenty of money for them to go to college, anyway."

Gallagher, the state's chief financial officer, said it would take years to start making scholarship reforms.

He said an immediate focus on improving the state's high schools would lead to stronger enrollment in college down the road.

"There need to be changes," Gallagher said. "I'm not sure it will happen in the first two years, but I am committed to making it a program that helps more kids go to college that wouldn't be going today anyway."

Their opponents in the Sept. 5 primary election, Attorney General Charlie Crist, a Republican, and U.S. Rep. Jim Davis, a Democrat, were invited to the meeting but did not attend.

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