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Special tags could benefit education

A recent Times editorial "Keeping Tabs on Tag Money," called for a more accurate accounting of the funds raised by the sale of "special" license tags and specified the error-filled administration of the Challenger license plates as an example.

While the dominant message was an important one, it was a less-emphasized point that caught my attention: "Drivers have been willing to pay an extra tax to have a license plate that supports their favorite cause . . . For some organizations, that money has come in faster than it can be prudently spent, or the funds raised exceed the present need."

If, as the editorial states, many people are willing to spend extra dollars each year in order to purchase a Challenger, manatee, or Florida State University plate, Florida's schools and students also should take advantage of this financial resource.

I suggest the creation of a "support education" license plate, using the money it generates solely for education.

Since the license plate taxes are collected by the county tax collector, the funds designated for education will be handled at the county level. The tax collector will immediately funnel the extra funds to the county school board for their disbursement. The money will not go to the state. Hence, we will avoid the problem of the state using the revenue to replace once-allocated funds as occurred with the Lottery.

Doing this on a county level may place small counties at a disadvantage, but since this is yielding "extra" dollars, even a small amount of money will benefit our students more than no money at all.

The purchase of special license plates is entirely voluntary. Therefore, county residents will be able to decide for themselves whether they want to offer much-needed support to our schools and students by buying the plates.

Perhaps the bill can be written to allow commercial vehicles, motor homes, antique cars and boats the option of selecting a "support education" license.

This idea seems so simple that I am not sure why educators have not thought of it sooner. The process is already in place, and it obviously is generating large sums of money, so we know it works. Because there is never enough money for county school systems to utilize, the problem of having too many license tax dollars to spend with discretion and accountability, as in the Challenger situation, should not occur.

It is not revenue lost to the state because the state does not have that source of revenue now. Since it will directly benefit the schools in the county where the plates are purchased, educators, PTAs and other concerned groups can promote the sale of the plates knowing that all money raised will be used locally.

A statewide contest open to all public school students can determine the license plate design and slogan. The design should feature an easily recognizable symbol of education, for example, a bright yellow bus or a little red schoolhouse. The slogan can be used as a rallying cry for education and can serve as the theme for promoting the plates.

Our students' dreams and needs require new funding sources, and this idea seems too good to pass by. I am sending a copy of this letter to our governor, state senators and representatives and others who have a vested interest in the well-being of our schools.

Strong proponents of education should immediately comprehend the value of such a proposal.

Donna M. Watson lives in Homosassa and is a former teacher. She is married to Citrus County School Board member David Watson.