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FEA: Sales Tax Increase Critical to Surviving Education Cutbacks

November 26, 2008

Florida school boards are scrambling to make ends meet in the wake of a 355-million dollar cut in the state education budget. This latest round of cuts leaves many districts with multi-million dollar shortfalls, searching for cutbacks in a system already nearly cut to shreds.

The easy reductions to district budgets have already been made, and their reserves have been nearly exhausted. Now, they're faced with such difficult choices as closing schools, reducing transportation, and laying off teachers.

Mark Pudlow, spokesperson for the Florida Education Association that represents 140-thousand teachers and school workers, believes there are more cuts anticipated, while these latest reductions are already hurting the students.

"I think that they’re going to have a huge impact on kids. I think that you're going to see fewer electives; I think youre going to see - if not this year, certainly next year - fewer teachers in the classrooms, larger class sizes. All of these things are really damaging."

Pudlow explains that the schools rely on the state for about half of their budgets, and the state dollars keep shrinking. Governor Charlie Crist recently ordered all state agencies to hold back an additional 4 percent of their funding.

Lawmakers claim they are making across-the-board budget cuts, and they have no choice in these tough economic times.

According to Pudlow, it's just a matter of priorities. Florida ranks nearly dead last in per capita spending on education, and is near the top in spending on law enforcement and jails. He says education has never been a priority in Florida, and this financial crisis has made the problem worse. He fears it is costing the present school generation their education.

"They're going to be suffering because of no fault of their own, because of an economic downturn, because of adults who haven't properly funded public education, and we think it is a shame. "

Pudlow says the only option is to increase revenue. The FEA is proposing a one-cent sales tax increase for three years that would be dedicated entirely to education. They are also suggesting expanding lottery games, implementing sales tax on Internet spending, and increasing taxes on cigarettes and liquor.

"We have to figure out a way to make a fairer tax system and raise more money, so that we can finance the things that are important for the growth of the state of Florida; public education is at the top of the list."

Critics maintain this is not the time to raise taxes, for any reason.

Gina Presson/Gina Presson , Public News Service - FL