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Education reform approved

The Florida Cabinet approved a dramatic education reform package called Blueprint 2000 on Tuesday, but wondered where the state will get the money to pay for it.

"It sounds like we're going off on this great adventure, but we don't know if we've got the supplies on board to bring us back," said Secretary of State Jim Smith, who voted for the reforms despite his concerns.

A half-dozen critics in the audience gave the reform package negative nicknames such as "Bankrupt 2000" and a "socialization monster."

Lake County School Board member Pat Hart called it a "utopian plan of education reform" and urged the Cabinet to delay voting on a program with no price tag.

Hardee School Board member Linda Clark questioned the direction the state is heading. "I like the buzz words _ accountability, improvement, excellence _ but somewhere . . . we've forgotten our goals," she said. "Where does it address academic goals?"

Education Commissioner Betty Castor was surprised at what she considered a last-minute barrage of negative comments. She told the Cabinet that the Florida Commission on Education Reform and Accountability had worked for more than a year on the reform package, taking testimony and building a consensus on the future of education.

The result was Blueprint 2000, which gives broad powers to local school boards on decisions affecting curriculum, textbooks, graduation requirements and other issues.

A fundamentally different education system will emerge: Teachers will act more like coaches than lecturers; students won't be involved in a rigid structure that requires a certain number of credits, subjects and courses to graduate. They won't necessarily graduate at the same time or at the same age as other classmates. And they will earn certificates showing their mastery of certain performance standards rather than traditional diplomas that show they got passing grades and attended classes for four years.

Smith and Insurance Commissioner Tom Gallagher were concerned about the economic impact of the reforms rather than the new philosophical approach to education.

"We have to recognize that we have some serious budget problems in this state. Is it possible to do Blueprint 2000 on existing revenues?" Gallagher asked.

The accountability commission is still working on cost estimates, but Castor acknowledged after the meeting that there likely won't be enough money in the regular education budget to pay for the intense training, new technology and new assessment methods needed for the reforms to become reality.

She said she was not discouraged about the future of Blueprint 2000 in light of concerns raised by some Cabinet members. "I think that it's hard to ever get unanimity, especially on something which has such far-reaching implications."

Gov. Lawton Chiles was not at the meeting. Attorney General Bob Butterworth, Comptroller Gerald Lewis and Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford did not raise objections.

Crawford urged the Cabinet to approve "these bold reforms" and not be discouraged by controversy. "To me it (controversy) is indicative that we are on a bold course," he said.

The Cabinet also approved a 1993-94 education budget request that increases public school spending by nearly $1-billion next year. The request includes shifting $111-million to local schools to make decisions on textbooks, library media materials and other purposes _ part of the Blueprint philosophy.