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    Teacher programs funding trimmed

    The House eliminated $36-million earmarked for training and recruitment.

    By DIANE RADO

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 27, 2001


    TALLAHASSEE -- At a time when Florida faces a massive teacher shortage, the state House slashed funding for teacher recruitment programs.

    It eliminated $36-million set aside for teacher training and cut a program that rewards teachers who go through tough national certification.

    Those, and other cuts, created an impasse between the House and Senate Thursday, with the clock ticking on the legislative session. With a week to go until scheduled adjournment May 4, budget negotiation meetings were canceled and legislative leaders were struggling to resolve differences in how public schools should be funded next school year.

    Two days ago, legislative leaders announced an agreement on tax breaks that broke a logjam. Now, education has become the sticking point.

    Senate President John McKay expressed concern whether the budget could be completed by May 4.

    The Senate wants to increase funding for kindergarten through 12th grade programs at least 4 percent. But the House had agreed to 2.8 percent.

    The House has "lower expectations" and different philosophies on how to fund public education needs, said state Sen. Don Sullivan, R-Largo, the Senate's education budget committee chairman.

    House budget Chairman Carlos Lacasa, R-Miami, said the House is willing to approve a 4 percent increase -- but only if the money goes into the classroom, such as for teacher salaries.

    Gov. Jeb Bush said his office was trying to break the impasse and is more in line with the Senate's position. Educators say teachers would have a tough time getting any raise under the House's budget proposals for education. An analysis of Pinellas schools' budget needs shows the district could be in the red if it had to cover increased expenses -- such as health insurance -- with money the state House has proposed for education.

    Overall, the Senate proposed $416.7-million more than the House for K-12 schools. Among the differences:

    The Senate approved $60-million for recruitment and retention programs as Florida anticipates the need for 160,000 new teachers over the next decade. The House proposed spending $24.7-million. This year, $60-million was set aside for recruitment and retention of teachers.

    The Senate set aside $36-million for teacher training. The House didn't propose any funding specifically for this area, saying districts could use part of an overall increase in K-12 operation funds to pay for training programs.

    The Senate proposed $11-million for extended school year programs -- Pinellas has three pilot schools offering an extended school year. The House proposed no funding in the area.

    - Times staff writer Lucy Morgan contributed to this report.

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