Hundreds Protest Cuts in Education; Parents, Students and Teachers Said Schools Can't Afford More Cuts

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Byline: BRANDON LARRABEE

TALLAHASSEE - Hundreds of parents, teachers, students and school administrators gathered Wednesday on the steps of the Capitol to warn lawmakers not to cut education funding despite what is expected to be a dramatically smaller state budget for the coming fiscal year.

The boisterous rally, sponsored by the PTA, drew an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 people. It featured calls for the state to implement a 1-cent sales tax increase to ensure that school funding isn't sliced in the face of a $6.5 billion budget shortfall.

Drawing parallels with the annual Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, Colleen Wood told lawmakers they were facing an exam of their own.

"You tell our kids no excuses on the FCAT," said Wood, a mother of students in St. Johns County and founder of 50th No More, a group that pushes for additional school funding. "We tell you no excuses today."

Those at the rally hoisted signs saying, "My child's worth 1o. Isn't yours?" and "CUTS = PoRe EjuKAsHun."

Speakers emphasized the toll that continuing education cuts would exact on schools across the state.

"The cuts are of biblical proportions," said Sen. Alex Villalobos of Miami, the only state Republican to speak at the event.

Duval County Superintendent Ed Pratt-Dannals said state funding for the district has already fallen from $906 million two years ago to $856 million now and could fall to $693 million if more isn't done to shore up education spending.

"There is no way that we can absorb this," Pratt-Dannals said.

The consequences in Duval would include staff reductions and the elimination of some programs, he said.

Those at the rally called time and again for the Legislature to approve proposals to increase the state sales tax from 6 cents to 7 cents. Leading Republicans, including Gov. Charlie Crist and House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, have declined to rule out the increase, heavily promoted by the Florida Education Association, a 140,000-member teachers' union. …