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By Florence Brainerd, Legislative Advocate

January 2003

Legislative Warm Climate

Senate President Jim King, a Republican from Jacksonville, is declaring political bipartisanship in the senate by appointing Democrats to leadership roles and asking for cooperation between both parties during the 2003 Legislative Session, convening March 4. The biggest challenge the legislature will face this year is the budget. The cutting of classroom sizes will bleed the state coffers to the extent all programs will suffer and will have to adjust to less.

Governor Bush Focuses on Reading Initiatives

During his second term gubernatorial speech on a cold winter day in Tallahassee, Governor Bush promised to make reading initiatives his priority for the next four years, and encouraged all legislators to make it their priority as well.

Governor Bush unveiled his executive budget for 2003-04. His proposed $54 billion spending plan recommends increases to lower class sizes, but cutting funds to state universities. His budget recommendations include:

        K-12 - $899 M, or 6.8%, increase.

        Per Student Funding - $247, or 4.65%, increase

        Just Read Florida! - $80.7 M. Funds will make up $30 M, a $19 M or 172% increase over last year, & $50.7 will come from the federal Reading First grant, an increase of $5.1 M over last year.

        Reading Teachers - $5.1 M increase for Critical Teacher Scholarship Program for total of $8.9 M this year. $3 M of this funding will assist reading teachers. In addition, $18 M of the $36 M in professional development funding for districts is recommended to be used to assist teachers in teaching reading.

        Teacher Initiatives - $281.5 M, including federal funding. (This includes $14.2 M for recruitment & retention activities.) $75.9 M for Excellent Teachers program, and $27.2 M or 56% increase to help ensure that Florida becomes the national leader in nationally board-certified teachers. Florida has 3,489 teachers who already have been certified, & the Governor seeks to have 12,000 certified by 2008. $16.2 M proposed for Teachers Lead program, which provides $100 for classroom supplies. Continuation of the Barry Grunow Acts death insurance for teachers at $165,000 & $1.2 M for liability insurance for all full-time & part-time instructional personnel.

        Amendment 9 – Governor Bush’s new "Classrooms for Kids" plan will provide $2.8 B over the next 8 years to meet projected construction cost & implementing the amendment to reduce class size.

        Mentoring Initiative - $12.25 M.

        Community Colleges - $1.4 B, 1.8% increase over current year.

        Universities - $2.4 B. Includes $79.1 M for facilities challenge grants     Recommended 7.5% tuition increase.

        Interim Legislative Committee Meetings  Legislative committees are meeting during January and February. The education and budget committees are discussing priorities, and "reading" is at the top. During this session, FRA members are encouraged to advocate reading issues and funding at their local level, to insure that the funding is placed correctly. Also, please invite your local legislators and school board members to your local council meetings and special occasions as "special guests". Give them awards or certificates for their interests in reading. Invite them to attend your classrooms. Let them read to your students. They love involvement and will certainly talk about it in education committee meetings.