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Published in Print: March 15, 2000, as Thousands Protest Fla. Plan To End Affirmative Action

Thousands Protest Fla. Plan To End Affirmative Action

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More than 8,000 protesters braved blazing heat in Tallahassee last week to chant, wave signs, and sing hymns against Gov. Jeb Bush's policy to end affirmative action, just as the Florida governor was delivering his State of the State Address.

The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson rallied the crowd at the five-hour protest March 7 on the grounds of the state Capitol. Kweisi Mfume, the president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Hugh B. Price, the president of the National Urban League, Martin Luther King III, the chairman of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Patricia Ireland, the president of the National Organization for Women, were all in attendance.

"It is important that the governor and the legislative body hear and see" public opinion, said U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, a Florida Democrat who helped organize the rally. She added that the rally would not be the last effort to draw the attention of the governor and lawmakers.

Many black state lawmakers felt the rally was so important that they skipped the governor's speech, said Gretchen Hitchner, a spokeswoman for Ms. Brown.

Inside the cool of the new state Capitol, Mr. Bush did not mention the rally. He did, however, plug the One Florida Initiative, the plan that eliminates the use of race or gender in college admissions decisions and governmental contracts.

"The vast majority of Floridians favor the elimination of all affirmative action policies," Mr. Bush said. "The One Florida Initiative creates a university system with greater diversity where minority students get both the access and finances they need based on their talent and work, not the color of their skin."

Policy on Hold

Mr. Bush's plan replaces affirmative action with the "Talented 20" program, a promise to all high school graduates who finish in the top 20 percent of their classes that they'll be accepted to any of Florida's 10 public colleges and universities, provided they take the 19 high school classes required.

It also allocates an additional $20 million for need-based student financial aid, increases the number of Advanced Placement and college-preparation classes in low-performing schools, mandates that the Preliminary SAT be made available to all 10th graders, and creates a task force to study inequities between wealthy and poor K-12 school districts.

The plan was approved by the state board of education in a vote Feb. 22. But the policy's implementation has been put on hold, pending the outcome of a challenge by the NAACP.

The NAACP filed a petition in state administrative court on Feb. 25 alleging that officials used improper procedures in preparing and approving the initiative, said Keith Goldschmidt, a spokesman for the state board of regents, which oversees the university system. The effect was to automatically halt the new policy's implementation, he said.

In the meantime, colleges and universities are continuing to consider race, ethnic background, and gender when recruiting their freshman classes for the coming school year, Mr. Goldschmidt said. By the time the NAACP's challenge is resolved, it is likely most institutions will have already chosen their entering classes under the old policy, he said.

Mr. Jackson used the controversy over the policy to take swipes not only at the Florida governor, but also at his father, former President Bush, and his brother, presidential candidate and Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

"One Bush gave us Clarence Thomas and Willie Horton. Another Bush from Texas asked us to wrap ourselves in the confederate flag. Another wants to kill affirmative action," Mr. Jackson said in a telephone interview. "The moral of the story: Stay out of the Bushes."

Incentives Proposed

In his State of the State Address, Mr. Bush proposed a $49.8 billion budget for the 2000-01 fiscal year that would increase funding for K-12 education by 6 percent, to $13.4 billion.

The governor proposed doubling the allocation for financial incentives given to K-12 schools that show improvement under the state's accountability system, from $30 million this year to $60 million in fiscal year 2001.

Awards of $100 per pupil would be granted to schools that earn an A grade or improve one letter grade if they receive B's and C's, said Elizabeth Hirst, a spokeswoman for the governor. Schools earning D's or F's would be given $50 per pupil for improving one letter grade. Schools that earn F's but show radical improvement would also get $50 per pupil.

If the budget is approved, $11 million will be allotted to professional development aimed at improving educators' teaching skills.

Vol. 19, Issue 27, Pages 24,31

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