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EDUCATORS TO LEGISLATORS: PLEASE DON'T CUT FUNDING

The Florida Board of Education and Education Commissioner Eric J. Smith sent their bare-bones budget request to Gov. Charlie Crist and the Legislature this past week, along with this polite plea of a letter.

"The State Board of Education understands Florida faces challenging economic times," it says. "During difficult financial times, funding education makes even more fiscal sense. This budget request responsibly funds our state's priorities, and allows the state to invest in a stronger workforce."

The letter refers to the budget request as "realistic" and a "minimum." It goes on to list some of the gains Florida students have made in the past decade, including rising scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress and rising participation and passage rates on Advanced Placement exams.

Translation: Please don't cut education funding any further, especially when we're making progress. Of course, the letter comes at the same time that all state agencies, including the Department of Education, had to submit contingency plans for an additional 10 percent budget cut next year.

Senator has a 'private' gripe about tax credits

When the Legislature put more money into corporate tax credit scholarships, state Sen. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton was not impressed.

"In a year when we were cutting the public education budget, we in Tallahassee decided it was the year to increase the amount of public money being spent in private schools," Deutch, one of just three Democrats on the Senate Education Committee, told the Florida Education Association annual assembly last week.

After the audience finished booing, Deutch told the group that he plans to reintroduce legislation that would give corporate tax credits instead to firms that put money into the public schools "so we can lift up the entire school, not just a handful of kids."

During his speech - an acceptance of his award as the group's Champion of Public Education - Deutch also called for raising the average Florida teacher salary to the national average and for fixing No Child Left Behind.

Everyone cheered and waved signs saying, "Thank you for being a friend." We'll have to wait and see what kind of reception his ideas, which were roundly defeated last session, get in Tallahassee next time around.

Prepaid College Plan enrollment to start

Have a young child and want to stash something away for college? The enrollment period for Florida's Prepaid College Plan begins Monday and runs through Jan. 31. Think of it this way: Buying in now secures your price for years. And if you go the 529 investment plan route, prices are crashingly low, with years to bounce back. For more information, go to www.florida529plans.com.

Gradebook contributors: Ron Matus, Donna Winchester and Jeffrey S. Solochek

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