January 22, 2002
The Executive Office of the Governor
(Good morning. Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, members of the Legislature, honored guests, and my fellow Floridians. Good morning to you all.
In most years, we mark change by the passing of foreseeable events. We take measured steps into a predictable future. The patterns are reassuring, the progress orderly and planned.
In this room for example, laws are debated, budgets are passed, and an old and familiar rhythm guides your actions.
Florida has its own rhythm, too. People go to work, they watch their children learn and grow and start families of their own. They play in the sun and pass their lives enjoying the outsized blessings that make our state unique.
But since I spoke here last, a new rhythm has been violently layered over the old. We awoke one morning in September, and the world lurched on its axis. We awoke one morning in September, and we confronted a threat that is unprecedented for our generation.
As I have come to expect from Floridians, we have been extraordinary in our response to that threat.
Here, above us, is the face of someone who is extraordinary. Here is the face of a hero. Here is the face of a fellow Floridian, CeeCee Lyles.
CeeCee is a woman who, with her husband Lorne, raised four sons and stepsons, sometimes working three jobs to support her family. Amazingly, she also found time to volunteer at Restoration House, a faith-based women's shelter.
She worked her way up from patrol officer to police detective in the Ft. Pierce Police Department, and she wasn't above tackling fleeing criminals if the need arose. She had a way of making her dreams come true. Ultimately, she was able to realize her dream to see the world by becoming a flight attendant for United Airlines.
And so on September 11th, she boarded Flight 93 headed from Newark to San Francisco. As you probably know, it was a flight that never reached its destination. Somewhere over Pennsylvania, the passengers and crew helped bring down the plane that was minutes from its intended target in the Washington DC area. But before they did, CeeCee Lyles called home to tell Lorne of her love for him and the boys, and then she calmly prayed.
Lorne Lyles and two of his sons are here with us today. I would ask them to stand …. and ask you to join me in honoring CeeCee Lyles.
CeeCee Lyles was a Floridian. Like so many Floridians, she reminds us of the power of resolve and our inherited imperative to seize the American Dream. Who among us is not humbled by the accomplishments in her life? Who among us is not awed by the depth of her courage on that fateful day?
It is not just the way she died, but the way CeeCee lived, that is heroic. CeeCee Lyles was a hero long before she boarded that plane. She reflects what is best about our state: the push beyond conventional expectations, the limitless opportunity for individual growth, and the elevation of those whose lives we touch. It is because of CeeCee Lyles and Floridians like her that we will continue to rise as a state.
As a state, we will meet, and soon overcome, the obstacles that evil has devised. We will understand, and soon eliminate, any barrier that would keep this state from realizing its destiny. And when we do, we will be stronger and better for it. Floridians are united as never before, and when the current crisis has passed, we will remain bound to one another in a spirit of caring and community that will endure. Stronger, wiser, with an unshakable determination: that is the state of our state.
So let us begin our work this year by ensuring that CeeCee Lyle's sacrifice and that of our other fellow Floridians, and other Americans, was not in vain. We must continue to thwart those who would harm us. We must renew our commitment to ensure the security of our citizens and our guests.
Immediately following the terrorist attacks on September 11th, we acted quickly. By executive order, I put in place new programs that bolstered law enforcement's ability to deal with the terrorist threat and authorized specialized training for domestic security personnel.
I am proud of the rapid response of the Legislature in aggressively addressing this new threat. A few weeks ago, in special session, you dedicated more than $17 million in new programs to bolster homeland security, put into place harsher criminal penalties for terrorist acts, and created a new, coordinated system for law enforcement's response to terrorism.
But we must do more. I am proposing this session that we spend $45 million to further strengthen domestic security, including $6 million to continue the efforts begun in the current year.
In addition, we will enhance our ability to aggressively confront bioterrorism by building new labs that will quickly analyze and respond to terrorist threats. We also propose nearly $10 million to strengthen our network of truck inspection stations, including the purchase of machines that can provide an X-ray picture of the contents of an entire truck at one time. We have set aside nearly $4 million to continue to fortify our regional domestic security task forces and fund the statewide domestic security database and training. Over $14 million is devoted to expand critical laboratory capacity, response capability and staffing for the seven regional disaster areas including Medical Assistance Teams. Let me be clear: we will do all within our means to thwart any terrorist attack.
And while we will never lose sight of the enormous human toll caused by these barbaric attacks, we also acknowledge the financial impact they have had on our economy. No state was immune from the fiscal consequences of the terrorist attacks, including Florida. In recent weeks, we have already taken bold steps to help restore our economy, launching programs like Operation Paycheck and passing an economic stimulus package aimed at creating more than 33,000 new construction jobs in this state.
And I am pleased to say that these measures are working. Today we have in our audience Archie Arosemena, a Floridian and father of two from Orlando. Until September 11th, Archie worked for American Eagle Airlines, earning about $8.50 an hour. He was laid off, but then he heard about Operation Paycheck on the news. He entered the program, and he will now be re-trained as a high-tech worker. In two weeks, he starts courses at the University of Central Florida to become a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer. When he graduates, he can expect to earn $40,000 to $60,000 a year. Archie, please stand and let us wish you good luck.
It is great to hear the soon-to-be success stories like Archie's, but there is much more work to do. Over the long haul, we must restore the health of the businesses we already have and we must grow new businesses that diversify and strengthen our economic base. Chief among the new industries that will transform Florida are those that create high-tech jobs, from Florida's globally-recognized strengths such as the simulation, optics, and space technology fields to emerging new sectors such as biotechnology, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence.
That is why this session I propose that we dedicate $100 million to create the Florida Technology Development Initiative. This initiative will build centers of excellence among our universities dedicated to the key research necessary for building our promising technology sectors. New facilities, laboratories, and endowed academic chairs will be the catalysts for entrepreneurial investment. If we build it, they will come. If we seize this opportunity, the best and the brightest academics, researchers, innovators, and entrepreneurs will call Florida home. And they in turn will help build businesses that will fuel our economy for the next century.
While the long-term economic prospects are bright, today we are faced with the challenges of a short-term recession. State government, along with all of Florida, has had to cope with the effects of this economic downturn. When you met in special session a few weeks ago, you dealt with a $1.3 billion shortfall in our budget, and, in doing so, you protected Florida's top priorities.
Even after the Special Session, education funding remains at historic levels, and per-student funding is at an all-time high. The K-12 budget is over $2 billion higher than when I took office, and funding for direct classroom instruction has been enhanced.
Health and human services spending has increased by a record $4 billion. For example, under our KidCare and Medicaid budget recommendations, 1.3 million children will be receiving health care coverage, up 69 percent from four years ago. The number of developmentally disabled being served has increased by 330 percent.
Public safety, too, has been protected, and convicted criminals will continue to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences. Over the last two years, the violent gun crime rate is down by more than 25 percent, translating into 18 fewer gun assaults each day in this state in 2000 compared to 1998.
You deserve our thanks. Thank you, the members of the Florida Legislature, for your vision and courage in challenging economic times.
On a personal note, I want to extend my thanks to a few leaders in the room with us today. First, Lieutenant Governor Frank Brogan. Frank, we have accomplished so much together, and I thank you for your friendship and leadership. And I particularly thank you for the pretzels which you are constantly offering these days.
I also want to give special thanks to President McKay and Speaker Feeney. Together we have undertaken visionary reforms for the people of Florida in a whole host of areas. You each should be proud of what you have accomplished in your leadership of the Legislature.
Senator King and Representative Byrd, I want to extend once again my congratulations to each of you for succeeding such worthy leaders. I look forward to working more closely with you.
Under these leaders, you, the members of the Legislature, have improved the lives of all Floridians. You should be proud. As we move forward we must continue our commitment to fund a state budget that focuses on our policy priority, making improved educational opportunity our top long-term goal. Let me say that again: excellence in education must be our highest priority.
When the children of Florida receive the education they deserve, other goals -- a strong economy, lower crime rates, healthier families, and fewer demands on government -- fall within easy reach. Education is not just part of the foundation on which we build the next Florida, it is the foundation.
Consider how far we have moved in education in three short years. Today, we take for granted things that were almost unimaginable a few years ago.
In 1997 and 1998, I visited more than 250 schools across our state. I listened and learned. I heard parents say that they wanted to know if their children were going to good schools, and they wanted a choice if their children were trapped in a failing school. I heard teachers say that they wanted the opportunity to be measured and rewarded for their efforts, and that they welcomed the chance to grow as professionals. I heard principals say that they were frustrated with a disjointed education bureaucracy that siphoned money from the classroom and tied their hands.
And so, three years ago, with your help we put into place the A+ Plan. For the first time in Florida, schools were held accountable. They received a letter grade based on student achievement. Parents were given knowledge that should be commonplace, but at the time was remarkable. They were told how good their schools were, based on student learning. Children who were trapped in "F" schools for two years were given the opportunity to attend better schools. Teachers were given more training and greater rewards for their successes. And principals were given more power over their school budgets.
And the results? They are nothing short of amazing.
Here is a map of Florida showing the "F" schools in 1999. There were 78 of them. Consider this picture. These are not just dots on a map. They illustrate the sad consequence of low expectations and little accountability. They were 78 sites that held the buried potential of thousands of our schoolchildren.
But look what happens to the "F" schools in the two years since we implemented the A+ Plan. They are gone. They have disappeared.
But unlike most great disappearing acts, there is no magic here, only the extraordinary efforts of parents, teachers, and students who rededicated themselves to excellence and learning.
One of the disappearing red dots on this map represents Hollywood Park Elementary in Broward County. It is a school with 84% percent of its students in free and reduced lunch programs, and it was struggling. In 1999 it earned an "F" and in 2000 rose to a "D." Then things really began to turn around. They retained a full-time reading resource specialist and a full-time reading teacher. They instituted a full-time reading plan. The result? They went all the way from a "D" to an "A" in 2001. It's just one of the great stories that each one of these 78 former "F" schools represents.
But the success does not end there.
Here is a map that shows the number of high-performing "A" and "B" schools in 1999. Only 21 percent of our schools were high-performing. But now look at what happens over two years.
Now there are twice as many high-performing schools, 41 percent in all. With the A+ Plan, we have nearly doubled the number of high-performing schools in Florida. We have provided a first-rate education for hundreds of thousands more students. And better still, we have made some of our greatest gains among minority and disadvantaged students.
As this graph shows, last year's average gains on the FCAT for grades 8 and 10 in math were higher for African-American and Hispanic students.
I'm also happy to report that minorities are making progress in reading. On the 4th Grade FCAT, 56 percent of African-American students scored at the lowest level - Level One - in 1999. That dropped to 43 percent by 2001. Hispanic students scoring at Level One dropped from 40 percent to 29 percent.
Let me be clear, we still have a long way to go, and the achievement gap between ethnic groups is still too large, as it is across the nation. But these results demonstrate that we can make progress, and we must keep our commitment to leave no child behind. We are beginning to win this fight.
But now is not the time to grow complacent. We must strive to improve, to raise the bar. School grades will now measure the annual learning gains of students, which was part of the original vision of the A+ Plan. Now, in addition to tougher standards in reading and math, schools will be held accountable as well as rewarded for the progress of their lowest performing students, and there is a greater focus on reading in measuring schools. We must continue to push the envelope, to accept nothing less than the best for and from our students.
To help build on the successes of the A+ Plan, we must continue to increase funding for our schools. Here is a graph showing the increases in total K-20 education funding over the past three years.
This includes - in the K-12 system - an 18 percent, $2 billion increase in student funding for Florida's public schools over the last three years. We should continue this trend, and so this year I am proposing we greatly increase total K-20 funding.
I would like to dedicate almost a billion dollars in new money to education, of which $726 million would be for the K-12 system, a 6.1 percent increase over the current budget, which is equal to a 3 percent per-student increase.
In tough economic times, this kind of commitment requires that we make hard choices; that we sacrifice. But what greater reason to make these sacrifices than Florida's children?
Just as the state has a vital role in paying for public education, so do local governments have the task of responsibly planning for growth. There is a price that comes with development, but in the past we have shied away from acknowledging the link between building permits and overcrowded classrooms. We must find the resolve to improve our growth management laws to address the challenges of a new century. It is time to plan for schools with the same enthusiasm we show for planning the development that will fill them. This session, I urge you to change our growth management laws so school construction can keep pace with development.
Of course, education is about more than just building classrooms. It is about mastering the core skills we need to succeed. If education is the foundation of success in our state, then reading is the foundation of education. That is why this year I urge you to commit this state on a long-term basis to fundamental reading initiatives that will achieve the goal of helping all children read at grade level by fourth grade. Yes, all students by fourth grade reading at grade level.
Today, only 53 percent would meet this goal, which is a tragedy waiting to unfold. Almost half our fourth grade students can't read at a fourth grade level. We have allowed it to happen over and over again. This is the precursor to dropping out of high school. It is the precursor to rising crime. It is the precursor to burdening society in a variety of ways. Worse yet, it is the ever-rising barrier for a person to pursue big dreams. All the research shows that if children aren't reading at grade level by fourth grade, the chances to learn going forward are diminished.
But once students are at grade level in the early years, we need to make sure reading is not ignored after that. Just as working out regularly keeps the body in shape, so does reading instruction past fourth grade help the mind and overall learning. In the past, once students achieve our expectations in the early years, we have ignored reading after that. This creates a failure to meet high expectations.
As part of this initiative, we are currently evaluating the effectiveness of reading programs statewide so we can identify the programs that are most effective at improving reading. Combined with federal funds made available through the Reading First initiative, I am recommending that next year we spend more than $50 million in state and federal funds to enhance reading in kindergarten through 8th grade. This money will go toward professional development for teachers and innovative programs for students that are aimed at meeting our reading goals.
Our reading initiatives will not only be linked closely with the A+ Plan, but also with our school readiness program. We're reaching 30,000 more disadvantaged Florida children than we were in 1999. Learning begins early, and we must ensure our next generation of readers arrives at school ready to learn.
There are many people in this room who understand the vital importance of our reading initiative, but there is one I want to mention today. Deborah Clark is a teacher at Frontier Elementary in Palm Beach County. When she was in high school, Deborah realized her dad could not read. At that moment, she committed herself to teaching him that vital skill. And since then, she has taught countless others, using her awesome determination to ensure that they would not have to suffer under that burden.
Deborah Clark has achieved remarkable results. Some of her first-graders are reading entire novels by the time they leave her class, and her second-graders show reading test improvements that almost defy belief. Deborah understands the power of teaching and the fairness of measuring results. She believes in the A+ Plan. Deborah, please stand, and let us thank you.
Deborah and the thousands of teachers and administrators who are equally dedicated have earned our trust. I urge you to make permanent the budgeting flexibility for our school districts, as well as for our universities and community colleges, that we allowed recently to meet the current budget shortfall. This session, I am asking that we give our fine educators the flexibility to change their budgets. Accountability in return for freedom to act. I believe it is a good bargain.
And finally, at is relates to education, we must conclusively address the issue of social promotion so that we once and for all eliminate the practice of advancing students because of their age rather than their knowledge. The A+ Plan sought to eliminate social promotion, but many of Florida's school districts have failed to comply with the intent of the law. For example, during the 2000 school year, thirty out of a hundred fourth graders scored at the lowest level in reading, level one out of five, but only three out of a hundred fourth graders were held back. We aren't doing our kids any favors when we challenge them with advanced material before they've mastered the basics.
I propose we give the social promotion language some teeth so that school districts won't give up on teaching our kids how to read. We should insist they clearly communicate to their communities their promotion and retention policies. School districts should report the number of students performing below grade level and how many of them actually get a new chance to establish their reading skills before moving on.
The best solution, of course, is to remediate struggling readers during the school year, to get them the extra help they need to stay on track.
But for school districts that continue to circumvent the intent of the law, there should be consequences, perhaps including the withholding of administrative funds. The people have spoken through you, the Legislature, on this issue. Enforcing the social promotion portion of the A+ Plan law is a commitment to never wash our hands of a child's future.
If we make Florida secure and provide educational opportunity, our state will grow and thrive. But government must hold up its end of the bargain. It is our duty to take a sound fiscal approach toward the operations of state government. Part of our job is to ensure we have a fair tax structure. President McKay and others have suggested a bold revision to our current tax system, essentially lowering the sales tax rate while broadening its application to a host of services that are now untaxed. I commend him for his willingness to advocate a big idea.
As Governor, I want to facilitate full, honest and transparent dialogue on this issue. As the debate has begun, the answers to some common-sense questions should determine the direction we take on this issue. How will this plan affect the competitiveness of Florida's businesses, especially the small businesses that are driving our economy? How will the debate over the next two years impact our investment climate? What of tax equity and fairness? Will Floridians have to pay more and our tourists less? What about the costs of compliance?
I do not know the answers to all these questions. But what I do know is this: we are building in Florida a business climate that is second to none in the country. During the last year, Florida has led the nation in job growth. We've grown by over 600,000 new jobs since 1999. Our current tax structure, coupled with tax relief, has fostered economic growth and job creation. And while improvement is always welcomed, let us be careful not to legislate away something that is a competitive advantage that benefits the people we serve.
As for me, you know my philosophy. It is not the job of government to constantly seek more revenue for itself, but to provide essential services responsibly, to create a climate of achievement, and then to let families, entrepreneurs, and communities do the rest.
As we ponder important fiscal issues, there is another that commands our attention. Our Administration worked diligently with citizen groups, environmentalists, localities, farmers, this Legislature, and our leaders in Washington to create an historic accord to save and restore the Everglades. This agreement, once fully implemented, will allow the Everglades to function much more like it did a century ago. But implementation of this plan is threatened because funding for the project has become uncertain. That is why this year I am proposing a dedicated funding source for the plan that will generate the state's annual contribution of $100 million. I urge you to approve this funding plan so the Everglades will be protected forever.
These, then, are some of the issues and programs I ask you to consider this year. There are others that are also extraordinarily compelling: our ongoing battles against drug abuse and domestic violence, our support of seniors, and our commitment to the developmentally disabled. But as the debates intensify and the workdays lengthen, we should not lose sight of the more powerful forces or higher goals beyond this room that shape our state each day.
It is our people, and not our government, that determine whether we rise or fall as a state. It is their spirit, and not our programs, that propel us forward. We need only remember CeeCee Lyles and the millions of Floridians like her to remind us of the greatness that quietly resides in our people.
We, in this room, have the privilege of serving the people of Florida. In the coming weeks, let us serve them well. Let us serve them so that when our children look back on this time, they will see the moment of change when our state grew together and solidified its place in the top tier. There are 16 million Floridians. There is but one destiny.
Thank you. God bless you. And God bless Florida.