American Asperger's Association Support Group

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» **********echo*******************
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» A.A.A. RESEARCH STUDY. Do you see any differences between females with Aspergers vs. males with Aspergers
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Florida budget cuts impact schools

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1 Florida budget cuts impact schools on Mon Jan 12, 2009 11:35 am

csweepigirl

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LEGISLATURE
Florida budget cuts impact schools, social services
As budget cuts move forward in the Legislature, the pinch is being felt in classrooms, nursing homes and even identity-theft investigations.


Florida Gov. Charlie Crist is getting worried about the size of the Legislature's proposed reductions. Crist said Tuesday that legislators should cut less and borrow more money from reserves. ROBERTO KOLTUN / EL NUVEO HERALD FILE PHOTO
Photo
Alberto Carvalho talks about his attempts to save education funding

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Naked Politics goes behind the scenes Complete political coverage Message Boards | News and Politics BY MARC CAPUTO AND JENNIFER LIBERTO
Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau
TALLAHASSEE -- Teachers are digging into their own pockets for school supplies. Identity-theft investigations are slowing down. And thousands of nursing-home workers are bracing for layoffs.

The stories about the effects of state's widespread budget cuts have swamped lawmakers during the two-week special-legislative session to fill the state's $2.4 billion budget hole. And as the Republican-led Legislature pushes forward with plans to trim nearly $1 billion in spending, fears and political posturing are on the rise.

Lawmakers will continue their march Wednesday toward state budget cuts. Nearly half of the budget-cut money comes from schools. Democrats are loudly protesting the cuts along with advocates, lobbyists, union members, teachers and state workers.

On Tuesday, Democrats opposed a Republican House education bill that cut $365 million from schools. The bill, which passed a House committee 5-3, also requires school employees to shoulder pay cuts if their district is declared to be in a financial emergency -- a provision that directly affects troubled Miami-Dade County.

Even Republican Gov. Charlie Crist is getting worried about the size of the Legislature's proposed reductions. Crist said Tuesday that legislators should cut less and borrow more money from reserves.

''One of the concerns that I have is that we make these reductions without hurting the end user: the student. So we're watching closely,'' Crist told reporters.

Legislators said they have no choice but to cut $365 million in K-12 education money, and about $100 million more in nonclassroom areas -- such as from school transportation, instructional materials and virtual school enrollment.

The classroom hit to Miami-Dade and Broward: $48 million and $36 million, respectively. Miami-Dade could lose up to $1.5 million of a $7 million cost-of-living expense paid by the Legislature.

Those numbers aren't a big surprise to the school districts. They were told to brace for these cuts after Crist ordered state agencies to withhold about 4 percent of their budgets last summer.

Now the Legislature plans to ratify Crist's budget hold-backs -- worth about $600 million -- and increase them by about $400 million. Advocates say Floridians are starting to feel the effect of the budget cuts. Lawmakers are eliminating hundreds of vacant positions, and might lay off at least a handful of workers.

LAW ENFORCEMENT

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is facing cuts of 85 positions, including 79 vacant jobs and six employees. But even just the vacancies have been giving the agency headaches.

Telly Sands, a special agent in Tampa who works economic crimes like identity theft, said her department is already feeling the crunch.

With the 4 percent holdback, the department stopped replacing retiring investigators. That means Sands has to either turn away cases or take a lot longer to investigate some cases. And in the case of identity theft, a delay costs big money, said Sands, who is also president of the FDLE Agents Association.

''For every day that goes by and that person isn't taken off the street you're looking at thousands and thousands of dollars in loss to retailers or to victims,'' Sands said.

``Being able to have the manpower to work these cases, that's the ballgame right there. That's what we, at FDLE, have to make sure we have. And we're losing that. We need quality investigators to work these types of cases.''

The Legislature's reductions are sprinkled throughout the budget, but they hit social services harder than Crist had called for.

Of all the healthcare cuts, one of the biggest targets nursing homes, which are paid with money from Medicaid. House and Senate leaders have agreed to cut nursing-home Medicaid reimbursement rates by 10 percent.

Nursing home operators like Debbie Franklin said the cuts have a human toll.

''This is 7,000 in potential job losses. It's going to bankrupt facilities,'' said Franklin, CEO for Florida Living Options, which operates in Lakeland, Ocala and Brandon.

''What effect will this have on the state's economy?'' she asked. ``Unemployment will go up, in addition to the frail elderly getting the best they deserve.''

In virtually every legislative budget committee, the questions and concerns sound the same. Advocates and Democrats are calling for more taxes, fees and more taxable gambling.

Broward school board chairwoman Maureen Dinnen told the House PreK-12 Education Appropriations Committee on Tuesday that the Legislature needs to find new money. She said teachers are increasingly digging into their own pocket books to pay for school supplies that neither the district nor cash-strapped parents can afford.

TAX AVERSION

But Republican Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff of Fort Lauderdale responded by saying that tax increases will make matters worse.

''I'm not sure who we are going to be taxing,'' Bogdanoff said. ``Perhaps maybe you'd like to tax the teachers who have lost their jobs? Or perhaps those families that are struggling with foreclosures?''

Most of the political war will be waged over the schools budget. School spending accounts for half of the part of the budget with the $2.4 billion hole. Schools bear about half of the cuts.

Next year, the total budget deficit could be at least $4 billion. That means more cuts for schools. Miami-Dade has already trimmed $289 million from its budget and now has to cut about $49 million more. Because Miami-Dade is already in a state of financial emergency, teacher unions and Democrats fret that the House's bill requiring pay cuts in cash-strapped counties will harm the district more than others.

Broward Schools Superintendent Jim Notter said the district had expected a bigger cut. But he said that wasn't cause for celebration.

''You're absolutely famished in the wilderness of the desert and you have a half a glass of water. You think you're gonna die,'' he said. ``They take half of the half and think you should be happy.''

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