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Stealing from roads to help schools

Dade County parents are understandably exasperated about overcrowded schools. The county school system has been adding 10,000 students a year for more than a decade, and many classes have more than 40 students. State legislators are too busy running for re-election to address the problem, preferring to brag about robbing millions from social services to modestly increase education spending rather than seriously discuss how to meet this state's pressing needs.

Frustrated by state lawmakers who are unwilling or unable to act, members of Dade's school advisory councils have come up with their own plan. They hope to gather 3-million signatures in support of transferring 10 percent of the Department of Transportation's $3.1-billion annual budget to education. It is a well-intended but misguided cry for action.

Stealing from roads to pay for schools is no better than stealing from social services to pay for schools. It is the budget equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, with no thought to a long-term solution that will prevent Florida from sinking into mediocrity.

Certainly the state needs to spend more money to build schools, hire teachers and buy textbooks. But the roads are in no better shape. A new study says Florida will need an additional $22-billion between now and 2010 to make road improvements. Two transportation groups advocate increasing the state's gasoline tax, which stands at 13.2 cents per gallon. To transfer the equivalent of 5 cents of gas tax to education at a time when more money also is needed for roads makes no sense.

What would make sense is for state legislators to meet after the election with Gov. Lawton Chiles and draft a bipartisan plan for tax reform that would help Florida meet all of its needs. Dade parents are to be commended for refusing to quietly accept overcrowded schools and demanding that the state meet its responsibilities. Now they need to channel their energies into lobbying for a more thoughtful solution than robbing from roads to pay for schools.