Chiles Urges Changes for Schools, Children

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When Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles opened the state's 60-day legislative session last week with his eighth and final State of the State Address, he used the occasion to spotlight his administration's past policy coups as well as what he sees as unfinished business in children's programs.

In his 30-minute speech to the state's first Republican-controlled legislature in more than a century, Gov. Chiles, a Democrat, warned lawmakers that for Florida to "lead into the next millennium ... we've got to fix our children. We've got to fix our inner cities. We've got to fix our rural blights, and we've got to preserve our environment." Ignoring those problems will make Florida a state of haves and have-nots, he said on March 3.

That said, Mr. Chiles also praised Florida schools for improving academics, noting that the state's list of "critically low-performing schools," based on Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores, had dropped from 158 to 30 since 1995. And he asked the lawmakers to approve an additional $24.5 million for school books and materials "to give students and teachers the support and tools they need." The amount would supplement the $250 allocated for every public school teacher to buy supplies--spending legislators approved during a special session on school construction late last year.

But Mr. Chiles also added that the state should "retrain many of our current teachers, ... recognize and reward top-quality teachers, ... [and] encourage more teachers to receive national certification and pay them better when they achieve it."

Child Care, Internet

Noting that only one in four Florida classrooms has Internet access, Gov. Chiles asked the legislature for more school technology support.

He followed up on a plea made earlier this winter for money to hire more school nurses. On the subject of child care, he asked for funding to support 26,000 "working moms who have not gone on welfare, but can't afford child care." He added that child-care providers on government payrolls should be required to undergo background checks.

He asked the lawmakers to earmark $200 million of last August's $11.3 billion settlement between the state and cigarette companies for an anti-tobacco campaign targeted to Florida teenagers.

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