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Chiles Urges Flexibility for Education In Plan To Eliminate

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Budget Shortfall By Lonnie Harp

Gov. Lawton Chiles told Florida lawmakers last week that he plans to use the state's billion-dollar budget shortfall as a springboard for streamlining and recasting education programs and state government as a whole.

The Governor used his State of the State Address to outline a new role for a leaner state bureaucracy, including a plan to grant local school officials greater autonomy.

Although the state is facing a projected fiscal 1991 budget deficit of $1.4 billion, Mr. Chiles made clear that he would not ask the legislature, which began its session last week, to approve a tax increase.

"We suck it up and use the budget crunch to force the improvements in our delivery of services," he said, describing Florida government as "top-heavy and inefficient."

Mr. Chiles's legislative agenda features a wide range of inexpensive proposals, including education deregulation, changes in the state lottery, and stringent new limits on campaign contributions for state and local offices.3

Moreover, the new Governor argued, his top priority for new spending--a $91-million health-care program for needy families--will also provide long-term savings for the state. "This is the cornerstone of our spending proposal," Mr. Chiles said in describing his ''Healthy Start" initiative. "If you pull it out, our house falls down and it is back to business as usual."

The program would expand health-care services for low-income pregnant women and children. ,/

Sounding a theme similar to one already emphasized this year by another new governor of a Sun Belt megastate, Pete Wilson of California--the principle that prevention is cheaper than treatment--Mr. Chiles said Florida's current budget priorities are "180 degrees out of kilter." (See Education Week, Feb. 6, 1991.) "We are spending most of our money at the back end to try to fix our crisis problems like school dropouts and growing prison populations," Governor Chiles said. "These back-end solutions come too late and cost too much."

Deregulation, Lottery Funding(

The centerpiece of Mr. Chiles's edu cation proposals would allow school districts more flexibility in spending state aid by eliminating categorical programs, returning "supervisory program coordinators'' to the class room, and increasing efforts to equal ize school spending through the state's school-finance program.

To provide a boost in education funding in a tight budget year, Mr. Chiles proposed wringing more money out of the state lottery, which he had made a prime target of criti, cism during his election campaign last year.

The Governor's budget plan calls for a permanent decrease in the Lot tery Department's slice of gambling proceeds and elimination of its re serve fund, thus providing a $32- million increase for the schools.

In addition, the budget recom mends that $538 million in lottery proceeds be designated as discre tionary funds for local schools, rath er than be included within other state education spending. Mr. Chiles is also pushing legisla tion aimed at creating an outcome- based assessment for Florida schools.

The education agenda moves the state away from "micromanagement" of schools toward oversight focused on performance, the Governor said.

"Of all the great proviso language and great programs I've written, I can't show you any real results," said Mr. Chiles, a former U.S. sena tor. "Give the government closest to the people the responsibility, then reward or punish them on their results."

Mr. Chiles also offered broad cost- cutting proposals, which he described as "rightsizing" government, that would reduce the salary-and-benefits budgets of all state offices by 5 per cent and then return half of that mon ey for training and employee bonuses designed to improve productivity.

Despite the looming budget short falls, Mr. Chiles said the new direc tion he envisions for state govern ment offers a bright prospect.

"I've read all the pre-session news papers ... and I hear doom and gloom," he told lawmakers. "I have never felt so hopeful in my entire life."

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