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Published in Print: March 10, 1999, as Bush Pushes Voucher Plan Linked to Failing Fla. Schools

Bush Pushes Voucher Plan Linked to Failing Fla. Schools

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Outlining an agenda that includes both more money for schools and tax breaks for Florida residents, Gov. Jeb Bush urged legislators last week to support what could become the first statewide voucher program in the country.

In his first State of the State Address, delivered March 2, the Republican governor told state leaders that Florida's education system is leaving too many students behind. Fifty percent of the state's 4th graders last year were not reading at grade level, he said, and one-third of Florida's 9th grade students have failed to earn even a C average.

Mr. Bush, a former real-estate developer who was elected last November in his second bid for the governorship, then asked the lawmakers to send a message to students and schools that failure is no longer an option.

"The alternatives are clear," the governor declared on the opening day of the legislative session. "With an educated populace, our state will flourish with prosperity and renewed citizenship. Without an educated populace, our state will wither away into economic irrelevance and we will be pitted against each other."

Calling on the Republican-controlled legislature to support an education package he first unveiled in January, Mr. Bush said his proposed 4.9 percent increase in K-12 spending--for a total of $7.1 billion in fiscal 2000--must be combined with accountability measures that include more state tests and rewards for successful and improving schools.

The plan would also offer "opportunity scholarships," or vouchers, of between $4,000 and $8,000 a year to students attending schools that failed to meet state standards for two years in a four-year period.

The vouchers could be used to pay tuition at higher-performing public schools or private and parochial schools.

"A student in a failing school deserves a quality education as much as a student in a successful school," Mr. Bush said.

Though he listed education as his top priority, Mr. Bush also touted his plan for a $1.2 billion tax-relief package for families and small businesses.

For Florida's 6.1 million households, the plan would provide the equivalent of "6 million weeks of groceries, 6 million months of electricity, or 30 million fill-ups of the family car," Mr. Bush said, defending his plan against critics who have called the tax package shortsighted.

Alabama Siegelman Aims To Raise Caliber of State's Schools

Education dominated Alabama Gov. Donald Siegelman's first State of the State Address last week, with the new Democratic governor offering an ambitious agenda he vowed would "change education in Alabama forever."

Mr. Siegelman outlined a series of initiatives aimed at improving classroom conditions, enhancing teacher quality, reducing school violence, and raising new funds for education, among other objectives.

"There is no better investment, no higher priority, than our children's education," he said in the March 2 address.

The governor promised to eliminate portable and substandard classrooms. He also committed to raising teacher and principal salaries to the national average and proposed to pay for two more teacher-training days. In addition, he wants to institute new teacher tests and "tough evaluations" for tenured teachers, he said.

He proposed a "one strike and you're out" policy on guns and drugs brought to school.

Mr. Siegelman also proposed creating an Alabama state lottery with revenues earmarked for education. The money would specifically go for college scholarships, prekindergarten programs, and school technology.

--Erik W. Robelen

Illinois Ryan Pushes K-12 Plans, Tax-Credit Proposal

Making good on a campaign promise he made last year, Gov. George Ryan of Illinois has unveiled a plan to devote more than 52 percent of all new state appropriations to education and job-training programs.

The new Republican governor used his first State of the State Address to propose what he called "the most far-reaching and ambitious education package ever set before this assembly." He then outlined a 10-point plan to improve education that would increase K-12 spending by 6.6 percent, to $5.5 billion, and give districts more money to hire new teachers, build new schools, and update school technology.

Mr. Ryan also suggested "extending a hand" to students attending private and parochial schools and urged lawmakers to enact a tax-credit program for families who pay out-of-pocket tuition expenses for public or private schools.

--Jessica L. Sandham

Vol. 18, Issue 26, Page 19

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