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Florida Schools Get 1.8 Billion Dollar "Band-Aid"

May 13, 2009

The check is in the mail. The federal government has released $1.8 billion in stimulus money for Florida education. While the extra cash is expected to reduce staff layoffs and stay many program cuts, Mark Pudlow with the Florida Education Association says it still amounts to just a "Band-Aid" for the state's ailing school system.

"We've got the patient patched up, and we've stopped the bleeding, but I don't think the patient is healthy at all, at this point in time. That has to be the legislature's work over the next couple of years: figuring out a way to properly finance public education."

Pudlow says the legislature needs to look at revising the tax system to provide stable funding to improve Florida schools. Critics say new school funding should wait until the economic climate turns around.

A recent study released by Save the Children found that 66 percent of Florida fourth-graders were not reading at grade level, ranking the state 26th in the nation. Judy Jerald, early childhood advisor to Save the Children, says the United States ranks near the bottom of developed nations for early childhood development - behind Cuba, Armenia and Cyprus.

"We can do much better than that; we must do much better than that. There are poorer countries who did far better than we did. We've got a problem, and part of the problem is that we're not starting early enough."

Jerald says parents should be encouraged to talk and read to infants, and they should get a helping hand through better pre-school education.

Mark Pudlow with the Florida Education Association says the sooner kids get a head start, the better.

"So much of the cost involved in public education is trying to deal with children who have fallen behind. The earlier we can start helping kids develop, the better off we're going to be, and that's a good investment in our kids."

Pudlow notes that voters mandated a quality pre-K program, but the program was cut due to budget constraints.

More information is available at www.savethechildren.org.

Gina Presson , Public News Service - FL