State Journal: Dialing For Dollars; Bar Blackboard Solons?

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Florida lawmakers, who struggled for much of this year to cut the 1991 state budget and were briefly called back into session to modify their 1992 plan, are back at it again, as projections show a $622-million gap that must be closed within the next month.

The state is already flirting with the largest class sizes in the nation, and Commissioner of Education Betty Castor has warned that shortening the school year by a week or more may be the best alternative to further reducing the teaching ranks.

The most recent gap would mean about $270 million in cuts to schools, which currently have little more than bare-bones programs in the wake of the earlier reductions.

"We're scraping along now," said Sandra Fernandez, a teacher in a Miami elementary school where the students include recent Nicaraguan and Haitian immigrants. "If we cut back, these children are not ... going to have a chance."

School officials have responded to the forecast with calls for a special legislative session to raise taxes and complaints that leaders have not adequately addressed the state's financial woes.

"If the Governor and legislature are waiting on 20 million people to pick up the phone and call for taxes," said Abe Collingsworth, the Brevard County superintendent, "I don't think that's going to happen."

For more than a decade, teachers have been one of the mainstays of the liberal coalition in the Alabama legislature.

Not only has the Alabama Education Association provided much of the money and manpower for the coalition's electoral successes, but teachers themselves have filled a number of legislative seats.

In 1987, for example, a survey found that 58 of 140 lawmakers were current or former teachers or their spouses.

The migration from the classroom to the Capitol has generated concern on the state ethics commission, which declared at one point that teacher-legislators could not vote on bills governing public employees' pay. The state supreme court subsequently overruled that position, however.

While the teacher tide has ebbed somewhat in the past few years, their presence in Montgomery continues to rankle the state's business community.

A recent survey by the Alabama Alliance of Business and Industry found that 35 lawmakers received income from public schools or colleges.

Moreover, a survey of the business group's members found 72 percent in favor of barring public educators from the legislature. --L.H. & H.D.

Vol. 11, Issue 05, Page 20

Published in Print: October 2, 1991, as State Journal: Dialing For Dollars; Bar Blackboard Solons?
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