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LOSING GROUND

Florida poured more money than ever into its schools. A record number of its residents had jobs.

That's the rosy news politicians kept telling us during the 1990s.

Here's what they didn't tell you: Throughout the 1990s, Florida lost ground to the nation's other states.

It happened in almost every category that can be measured.

High school graduation rates. The percentage of people living in poverty. Funding for research and development.

One bottom-line measurement of the slip: Floridians began the 1990s with more disposable income than the average American. They ended the decade with less.

"It takes two salaries just to bring you even," says Dave Springer, a St. Petersburg resident who works for the Pinellas County roads department. "Considering the times, I think we're a little behind."

The blame for such failures is bipartisan and widespread.

Democrats controlled the state in the early 1990s; Republicans wielded power at the end.

Business leaders were a force throughout the decade. But while they complained mightily about the sorry state of Florida's education system, they still lobbied successfully for tax breaks that reduced the state's ability to fund it.

The St. Petersburg Times takes a look at the decade that was, and could have been. Story, 1B

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