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Published in Print: March 14, 2001, as Gov. Bush Aims To Keep Teachers

Gov. Bush Aims To Keep Teachers

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The State of the StatesGov. Jeb Bush of Florida asked the legislature to approve initiatives designed to recruit and retain teachers in his State of the State address last week. The state's growing teacher shortage, he warned, threatens to undermine recent academic gains.

In the March 6 speech, the governor touted his package of 20 initiatives designed to keep current teachers in the classroom and attract new people to the profession. Mr. Bush's plan includes a $50 million program to offer $1,000 "signing bonuses" to new teachers, a $50 million fund to enhance districts' efforts to retain teachers, and a proposal to accelerate the timetable for starting a program with alternative routes to teacher certification.

In all, the governor is proposing to spend $169 million for such programs.

"Our growing student population has created an unprecedented demand for teachers in this state," Gov. Bush told the state lawmakers. "We must begin a 10-year project to recruit and retain 160,000 teachers to meet the projected demand."

But some critics contend that the governor's continued focus on education is undercut by the fact that he is proposing a $241 million reduction in a tax on stocks, bonds, and various other investments. Mr. Bush helped shepherd through more than $1.5 billion in tax cuts during the past two legislative sessions.

"If I look at a budget that gives tax breaks to the already-wealthiest Floridians, it betrays all the other rhetoric about moving our school system forward," said David Clark, a spokesman for the Florida Education Association, an organization formed by the merger of the state affiliates of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers.

"The rhetoric is wonderful, but the budget betrays it," he maintained.

Last week's address kicked off a legislative session in which lawmakers will no doubt attempt to address the teacher crunch, observers said. The Florida Office of Economic and Demographic Research, a research arm of the legislature, recently reported that the state will need some 160,000 new teachers over the next 10 years, with only 60 percent coming from the state's colleges and universities.

This week, a task force on teacher recruitment and retention assembled by the Florida School Boards Association was scheduled to present a series of recommendations to legislators. Wayne Blanton, the executive director of the association, said that while the governor's recommendations were "a good start," the task force would likely expand on them, particularly in the area of teacher retention.

The task force is aiming to encourage private-sector teaching incentives, such as lower interest rates for teachers who buy homes, and a "career ladder" program that would reward teachers with bonuses based on the number of years they've stayed in the classroom, Mr. Blanton said.

"No matter how you look at it, we're coming up 3,000 teachers short throughout the state every year," Mr. Blanton said. "That problem just compounds over time. We have to do a better job of retaining teachers."

Vol. 20, Issue 26, Page 22

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