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Group opposes school plan that's before the Cabinet

Questions and concerns stand in the path of a dramatic education reform package headed to the Florida Cabinet today for approval.

One group plans to ask the Cabinet to delay a vote on the reforms, called Blueprint 2000, until more is known about how much the changes will cost.

"This is not a blueprint; this is highway robbery," said Carole Griffin, state president of the conservative Eagle Forum.

She and about a half-dozen people, including school board members and parents from across the state, met with Cabinet aides Monday to express philosophical and economic concerns about the plan and ask for a delay.

Education spokesman Randy Lewis said he expects a vote, as scheduled, at today's Cabinet meeting. Gov. Lawton Chiles is not expected to be there; he's scheduled to be at a conference in Orlando.

Blueprint 2000 is the product of more than a year's effort by the Florida Commission on Education Reform and Accountability. It proposes revolutionary changes in the way Florida educates its young people, with the state Department of Education relinquishing much of its control to local school districts.

Local boards, with the help of school advisory councils, would have broad powers to decide on curriculum and textbooks and set graduation requirements, school-day requirements and other issues. Students wouldn't be required to have a certain number of credits, subjects and courses to graduate, and they wouldn't necessarily graduate at the same time or at the same age as other classmates.

All students would have to attain certain performance standards, defined generally in the Blueprint 2000 report. They include communicating in English, using numbers to solve problems, using creative thinking to generate ideas and make decisions, and applyingconcepts found in art and literature to perform tasks.

A committee has been formed to study the economic impact of the proposals, but an estimate of the cost won't be ready until a meeting later this month, said Michael Biance, executive director of the commission.

He said the commission is working on a "core of essential concepts" that students will have to master in each academic discipline.

Teachers want more specifics on the performance standards, said Pat Tornillo, president of Florida Education Association-United.

"Teachers are going to ask, "What am I going to be held accountable for? What is it that students need to learn?' Those general standards are not acceptable," Tornillo said Monday.

He also questioned whether the Legislature will allocate money for the reforms: "After the disastrous two years we've had in cuts in funding, nobody is talking about accountability; everyone is talking about survival. This is a good initiative if you've got the money to implement it."

Education Commissioner Betty Castor has proposed increasing public school spending by nearly $1-billion for 1993-94. The request, to be considered by the Cabinet today, includes shifting $111-million to local schools to make decisions on textbooks, library media materials and other purposes. The budget includes $10-million for incentive grants to schools that agree to "redesign their teaching and learning systems to dramatically increase student performance."

"This is a sneaky way to raise taxes," Griffin said. The group also is worried that the reforms, which rely on social service agency involvement, could lead to mass distribution of condoms in schools.