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Chiles calls for increased school spending

Known as a champion for children, Gov. Lawton Chiles was criticized in January when he proposed the smallest spending increase in five years for schoolchildren.

Now, Chiles says Florida's students deserve more.

The governor on Wednesday recommended a 3.3 percent increase in spending per student, up from his original proposal of 2.58 percent.

Things looked even better in the Legislature, where the House and Senate are considering increases slightly larger than the governor's latest plan.

The numbers were enough to cause educators to cheer.

Per-student increases have been higher in the past when state dollars were spent more freely. But with anti-tax Republicans in charge of the Legislature, "the days of 7, 8 and 9 percent increases are not to be seen again," said Wayne Blanton, of the Florida School Boards Association.

The governor released additional budget recommendations, putting $419.7-million more into next year's $42-billion budget, because less money than expected will have to be spent on welfare and prisons. A large chunk of the "new" money went to education.

Wednesday was a day of clashing philosophies over how Florida should pay to educate students from kindergarten to college.

In the Senate, budget writers debated raising tuition for university students.

The House wants a 7.8 percent tuition increase _ close to Chiles' proposal _ and the Senate wants about 10 percent. But the Senate is suggesting charging more for junior- and senior-level classes because those classes cost more to offer.

Under that approach, tuition would actually decline by as much as 20 percent for freshman and sophomore classes, and could increase by nearly 24 percent for upper-level courses. Current tuition is $40.75 per credit hour for undergraduate students.

But that plan _ which exists only in the Senate _ will be controversial.

"We're not dealing with dollars; we're dealing with students," Sen. Betty Holzendorf, D-Jacksonville, told her colleagues, complaining that juniors and seniors working their way through college won't be able to handle such a burden.

"We're close to becoming a university system that doesn't belong to the people," she said.

The committee agreed to look at moderating their proposal, but didn't drop it.

Chiles would have to look carefully at such a proposal, said a spokeswoman.

Another clash Wednesday came over funding for "full service" schools that can provide health and social services on campus.

In the House, the education budget committee agreed to wipe out funding for such programs.

"Most Republicans, including myself, are opposed to the concept," said State Rep. Bill Sublette, R-Orlando, the committee chairman. "I don't believe the delivery of social services belongs in the schools."

That irked Chiles, a strong advocate of preventive health programs.

"That's terrible. Full service schools are some of the most effective things that we're doing for education," the governor said when learning about the House proposal.

The Senate continues funding for such services but gives school districts greater discretion on spending those dollars.

Among the other new budget recommendations Chiles announced Wednesday:

An additional $7.9-million for financial aid for needy students. The House wants all proceeds from a tuition increase to help needy students. The Senate says one-third of the increase should go to need-based aid.

An extra $10-million for special reading programs for first-grade students who are struggling to read at an average level.

Another $33.3-million for residential and community-based services for developmentally disabled people moving out of other facilities.

Another $10-million for grants in support of legal immigrants no longer eligible for some benefits due to welfare reform.

Another $4.3-million to hire more probation officers to supervise inmates released early from prison.

Another $34-million to cover new damage estimates for several recent state disasters, including 1992 tornadoes in Pinellas and the 1993 winter storm that affected the Tampa Bay area.

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