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FEA: Rally Urges Lawmakers to Make Schools a Priority

February 27, 2009

Parents, teachers and administrators are rallying in Orlando Saturday to bring attention to the financial challenges mounting against Florida's public schools. Their campaign, Make Our Schools a Priority, launches as the legislature prepares to consider the fifth budget cut in two years for the school system. Florida already ranks last in per-pupil funding.

Mark Pudlow, spokeperson for the Florida Education Association (FEA), the statewide teacher's union, says the rally will send a strong message to the legislature - to find an alternative to cutting more from the education budget.

"These cuts are shortchanging kids at a time when they need a good high-quality public education the most. This is just not acceptable. We can’t balance the budget on the backs of our kids."

The FEA is supporting a bill filed earlier this month that would increase the sales tax by one penny for three years, raising approximately $3.5 billion a year for education. Representative Ed Bullard is sponsoring that legislation, and as a teacher himself, he believes the budget already has been cut - not to the bone, but to the marrow.

"When you’re running out of toilet paper at the school and you have to then go in and say, 'buy more toilet paper, but I may have to make a teacher part-time,' you realize principals shouldn’t have to make decisions like that."

Ronald Blocker, Orange County Schools superintendent, agrees, saying Florida law requires the legislature to adequately fund the schools, whatever it takes.

"We have to encourage our legislature, and help them understand this is not a time to say, 'we wish we could help you, but we can’t find the money.' This is the time to find the money and it is a matter of setting priorities."

Florida PTA president Karin Brown says the priority has to be the children.

"We cannot wait for tomorrow, we cannot wait for next year. Our kids' future is definitely at risk."

Thousands plan to attend the rally at the University of Florida. Critics say cutbacks are inevitable, even to public schools, in this tough economy. The Legislature convenes next week for its two-month 2009 session.

Gina Presson , Public News Service - FL