Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Budget Crunch Is Bound to Hurt Florida Children

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Budget Crunch Is Bound to Hurt Florida Children

Article excerpt

Byline: Tonyaa Weathersbee, Times-Union columnist

I guess I can see why Florida lawmakers were turning their budget cleavers last week more toward education than human services.

Schoolchildren, after all, may still grasp some knowledge while crunched up in crowded classrooms, but a sick child whose parents have to choose between buying food or medicine might not survive until more tourists go through the turnstiles at Epcot, Disney World or any of the plastic-fantastic environs that have made money for Florida over the years.

Whatever happens is bound to hurt. Especially when it comes to education.

That's usually the way it goes.

It went that way some years ago. After voters approved a lottery in 1986, everyone pretty much expected for it to amount to a painless, tax-free miracle for Florida's schools. But not long after the lottery proceeds began piling up, lawmakers took an ax to education's share of the general revenue budget to cover other costs. The schools gained lottery money but lost a percentage of revenue money.

The point of it all was to be able to work with both.

That state of affairs led to few sweeping improvements in Florida's schools. It also left people perennially asking, "Whatever happened to the lottery money?"

For a while, however, the booming economy bolstered education. Then came Sept. 11.

The trickle-down fear inspired by the terrorist attacks helped to poison Florida's economy. But even before hijackers obliterated the World Trade Center towers and toppled what was left of years of prosperity, the state was facing at least a $500 million revenue shortfall. After the attacks, the deficit swelled to $1.3 billion -- and exposed the vulnerability of a state that largely relies on the whims of tourists to cover the bulk of its budget for education and human needs.

Now, even lottery proceeds wouldn't help education much because there's not much sales tax revenue to combine with that.

And again, education will have to brace for the blow.

Lawmakers are now talking about cutting $400 million or more from public schools. …

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