State of the States 2004: Florida

March 31, 2004 1 min read

Gov. Bush Wants Middle School Reading Coaches

State of the States

Gov. Jeb Bush urged Florida lawmakers in his State of the State Address this month to pass steps to improve education while keeping spending under restraint.

The speech at the state Capitol in Tallahassee came as lawmakers were beginning full debate on next year’s budget.

Gov. Bush avoided calling attention to bills proposing greater state oversight of his signature school choice programs after a series of scandals rocked the programs last year. (“Supporters Debate Fla. Voucher Rules,” Jan. 14, 2004.

He also did not mention the state’s expensive, voter-approved class-size-reduction program that he wants scaled back. (“Class-Size Reduction Is Slow Going in Fla.,” Feb. 18, 2004.

Instead, the Republican—who recently entered his sixth year in office—called for passage of his Middle Grades Reform Act, which would add hundreds of state-financed reading coaches in middle schools. Florida already has hundreds of reading coaches in elementary schools who help teachers with reading instruction.

In the March 2 speech, Gov. Bush said reading scores were up significantly in some grades because of the elementary-level program. He showed a video profiling Tallahassee 4th grader Isaac Cuyler as a student whose test scores have risen significantly in part because of state efforts, and he recognized the boy’s parents in the audience, according to a transcript of the speech.

In addressing a state constitutional mandate that requires the legislature to provide universal preschool in public schools, the governor pushed for programs to provide training for up to 9,600 preschool teachers and for lawmakers to pass legislation that would force preschools to focus on early-age literacy.

Mr. Bush linked rising test scores to his school accountability program, passed in his first term, that gives schools letter grades based on their test scores. If a school gets an F two years running, students can use state-financed tuition vouchers to transfer to private schools if they wish.

“The decisions we made five years ago,” when lawmakers passed the governor’s school accountability and choice programs, “improved the quality of education for Isaac and his peers,” he said. “But our job’s far from over.”

—Alan Richard

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