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    Lawmakers: We'll pay for vow to teach

    A bill would pay tuition and fees if prospective teachers agree to take and keep classroom jobs at least four years.

    By SHELBY OPPEL

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 28, 2001


    TALLAHASSEE -- Florida needs teachers so badly that state leaders want to pay their college bills to get them into classrooms.

    Education Commissioner Charlie Crist and Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan released a proposal Tuesday that would grant scholarships to Florida college students who pledge to teach four years in a public school.

    The four-year scholarships would cover tuition and fees and could be used at any public or private institution in Florida with a state-certified teacher education program, Crist said. Gov. Jeb Bush and Republican legislative leaders support the plan, which is aimed at providing some of the 162,000 teachers Florida is expected to need in the next 10 years.

    "This is what dreams are made of," said state Sen. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, a bill sponsor joined by high school students at a news conference.

    "I'm looking forward to being able to make their dreams, these students behind me, their dreams come true."

    The bill, also sponsored by state Rep. Heather Fiorentino, R-New Port Richey, would offer 5,000 scholarships annually at a cost to the state of $12-million to $15-million.

    To apply, high school seniors would need a minimum cumulative 3.0 grade point average on a 4.0 scale in college preparatory courses and a minimum 970 SAT score or the equivalent ACT score. College students who apply must have earned a 2.75 on a 4.0 scale for postsecondary work.

    Recipients would receive an annual award equal to the average cost of tuition and fees at a state college or university, plus $3,000 for books and housing. Students who use the scholarship at a more expensive private institution would pay the difference.

    Recipients who don't teach for four years in a public school after graduation would have to repay a pro rata share of the scholarship to the state with interest within 10 years. For example, if a person teaches only two years, they would have to repay half of the scholarship money. Funding for the scholarships has not been included in any budget proposals, Crist said.

    "Not at this point, but with the people that we have on board, including the (Bush) administration, we're going to get there," he said.

    Elsewhere in his proposed budget, Bush has included funding to continue programs that reimburse tuition costs and forgive student loans for teachers in critical shortage areas and for signing bonuses of at least $1,000 to beginning teachers. While praising the recruitment efforts, a spokesman for the state's largest teachers union said lawmakers also must increase salaries and benefits to keep teachers they already have.

    "The governor's budget and the governor's resources are not going to allow us to compete, in spite of all these nice things," said David Clark of the Florida Education Association.

    Yasmin Young, 17, a junior at Havana Northside High School, said she would use the scholarship to attend Bethune-Cookman College to become an English teacher.

    "We need to teach people who don't know anything," Young said. "We need to teach them what they need to know."

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