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Bush vows to keep pushing for One Florida

Dissent and protest won't deter him from reworking affirmative action, he tells an education task force.

The sharpened criticism cast toward Gov. Jeb Bush for his plan to overhaul state affirmative action policies apparently has hurt.

"I've gone through the last couple of weeks with a pretty heavy heart, to be honest with you," Bush said Monday, speaking to a task force he appointed to study disparities in school funding.

The governor told the group he was committed to increasing diversity and to ensuring that all Florida children receive equal chances to learn _ including at low-performing schools where the majority of students are minorities.

"It's at the core of why I want to serve as governor," he said.

Bush said that his motives have been questioned but that he remains resolved to end racial and gender preferences while increasing diversity with other measures.

"I'm going to keep at this and emotions will subside at some point," he said.

Many heads nodded when Bush spoke to the group, and the governor greeted nearly everyone by first name. At least half the 24 members on the panel are black, and many of the black members supported the governor in his 1998 campaign.

Sen. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami, and Jacksonville Democratic Rep. Tony Hill, who staged a sit-in two weeks ago to protest Bush's One Florida plan to overhaul affirmative action, have accused the governor of listening only to blacks who support him.

One black member made a point of assuring Bush of her support on Monday.

"I think you're the greatest thing yet," said Dr. Gwen Chandler-Thompson, a media and library specialist from Jacksonville.

Bush established the task force as part of One Florida. The group met for the first time Monday. The meeting was intended to be held last fall but was delayed, in part, because its original chairman, Miami Sen. Daryl Jones, left the committee. Jones, a black Democrat, initially supported One Florida but reversed himself under pressure from black lawmakers and constituents.

Bush told the group that students at poorly performing public schools too often are the victims of inadequate funding and low expectations.

"It's not just money . . . we should have high expectations for every child," he said.

Later in the day, Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan urged the group to focus less on state education expenditures and more on ways to hold local school districts accountable for how and where they spend education money.

Bush said a campaign car ride around Broward County in 1998 convinced him that some schools receive money and attention while others are neglected.

He touched the shoulders of two committee members, Fort Lauderdale women who drove him from wealthy east Broward to the struggling northwest. "The reason why we're doing this is because of my travels around Broward County with you guys," Bush said.

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