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    Governor calls for action to aid minority students

    By DIANE RADO

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 22, 2001


    TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Jeb Bush on Wednesday appealed to educators and state lawmakers to help poor, minority schoolchildren who are being shortchanged by Florida schools.

    Bush said his own initiatives have begun to improve conditions for students who have fallen through the cracks, but he acknowledged that a task force he commissioned in November 1999 has shown that more work needs to be done.

    "The task force's findings reaffirm my belief that the cycle of failure of the public schools system to respond to the needs of each student must be broken," Bush said in a written statement, his first response to a study by the Equity in Educational Opportunity Task Force submitted to him Jan. 31.

    The Times reported the findings Tuesday(Weakest schools cheat students (March 20, 2001)).

    The task force found that poor, minority children in Florida's worst schools are being deprived in areas crucial to learning and high achievement.

    Among other things, the report found, these students don't have the same opportunities to sign up for advanced classes as students in more affluent schools; they don't use computers as much; they appear to get less guidance from school counselors; and often have inadequate textbooks and library materials.

    Higher performing schools -- those given A and B grades by the state because of high test scores -- had considerably lower concentrations of minority and poor students than low performing schools getting D and F grades.

    The findings were based on more than 500 interviews of schools officials and students in 62 schools in 10 school districts.

    Bush said in his statement Wednesday that the findings support the premise on which his own education reforms are based: "that many schools serving predominantly poor and minority students require dramatic change to significantly improve student achievement."

    Bush's controversial "A plus" plan gives grades to schools based primarily on student test scores and provides vouchers to students in failing schools so they can transfer to private schools.

    In higher education, Bush enacted another controversial plan that guarantees university admission to the top 20 percent of each high school's graduating class -- a way to give access to higher education to children in schools labeled low performing because of inadequate test scores.

    Those and other reform efforts confirm "that Florida is on the right track in focusing on greater opportunities and higher quality education for all of our students," Bush said.

    The governor also noted the task force found that schools getting D and F grades have been receiving more money from the government than schools with A and B grades.

    The task force was cautious about drawing broad conclusions from that funding analysis because the data did not include money from private sources, such as parent teacher associations, school foundations and booster clubs.

    Nevertheless, Bush said the study "confirms that the answer to school improvement is not a simple matter of more money."

    Bush did not offer any specific solutions Wednesday to problems described in the task force's findings, but he called on the network of people involved in education to take action.

    "Now, it is up to all of us, the Legislature, the Commissioner of Education, school board members, superintendents, district administrators, principals and teachers to carefully review the task force's report and implement laws, rules, or guidelines to address the issues that need action," Bush said.

    The report is available on MyFlorida.com (Governor's office/One Florida Initiative.)

    Recent coverage

    Weakest schools cheat students (March 20, 2001)

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