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Florida Lawmakers Raise Teacher Pay

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Before adjourning this month, Florida lawmakers approved a $651-million increase in aid for the state's public schools, including funds for an 8 percent pay raise for teachers.

Betty Castor, state commissioner of education, said she was "very pleased'' with the $5.7-billion school budget for the upcoming fiscal year, even though it is not enough money to raise teachers' salaries to the national average, as she had requested.

"It doesn't quite meet my goal,'' she said, "but when you look at what Florida has been able to do, and compare it with some other states, we're going to be able to move forward rapidly.''

During the session that ended on June 6, lawmakers approved a total state budget of some $18.4 billion.

They also agreed on the details of a new statewide lottery, whose profits will benefit education. The lottery, which goes into effect in January, is expected to generate approximately $145 million next year, and at least $400 million a year after that.

Legislators did not specify how the money is to be divided among Florida's public schools, community colleges, and colleges and universities. That decision will be made each year as part of the appropriations process.

But they specified that the funds must be used to augment--not supplant--existing school spending.

In a setback for proponents of performance-based pay plans for teachers, lawmakers failed to allocate any money for the state's career-ladder program, which was to take effect next school year.

The law will remain on the books through fiscal year 1988-89, after which it will automatically expire unless it receives at least $90 million in funding.

Ms. Castor said the education department had lobbied hard for the program, "but we could not overcome two obstacles--first, just the total lack of support from the rank-and-file teachers, and second, the lack of any legislative champion.''

She added that she was "not very optimistic'' about the program's prospects.

"I think the bad taste left in people's mouths from the original master-teacher program was hard to overcome,'' she noted. "I think Florida paid the price for being out in front on that program.''

The master-teacher program was repealed last year, after teachers and administrators complained it was not working.

Observers predicted that few, if any, school districts would move to implement career-ladder programs in the absence of new state dollars.

But Pat Tornillo, president of the Florida Education Association-United, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, said: "We've already decided that we're not going to let the career ladder die. We're calling on the Governor to consider that in a special session of the legislature in September and to fund it.''

Mr. Tornillo, who is also president of the union's Dade County affiliate, said Dade County was considering ways to implement a career ladder, even without state dollars.

Like legislators in a number of other states, Florida lawmakers approved a new "prepaid tuition trust'' that will enable parents to set aside money years in advance to ensure that their children can attend any of the state's universities or community colleges.

In a victory for Gov. Bob Martinez, the legislature agreed to extend the state's 5 percent sales tax to services. It also gave local governments the authority to levy a 1 percent "local option'' sales tax, subject to voter approval. Funds from the sales tax can only be used to pay for capital-construction projects.

Jon Peck, the Governor's deputy press secretary, said Mr. Martinez was "quite pleased with the budget overall.'' The Governor was expected to sign the bill this week.

Although Mr. Martinez has the authority to veto line items in the budget measure, Mr. Peck said he could not predict whether he would exercise that authority.--L.O.

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