Florida's Budget Battle Continues

A recent probe discovered that Florida schools, given $100 per student for doing well on the F-CAT, may be squandering that money.

Schools are supposed to spend the money on supplies or staff, but a newspaper report shows they're spending it on everything from ice cream socials to clowns.

Many Florida schools have spent their $100 per student bonuses anyway they choose.

The law, however, requires the money go only for staff bonuses, hiring new people or for educational equipment.

Regardless of how the cash is spent, state Rep. Bev Kilmer says the schools should have the only say in the matter. "We don't intend to tell them how they have to use that money, we tell them you spend where you think you are going to get the most benefit out of it."

Before the controversy over how schools were spending recognition money, the funding was already in trouble. The senate budget doesn't have a dime. The house has only half of what the governor wants. Senate Minority Leader Ron Klein says there is no room for bonus money in a tight budget. "If we have to make choices I'd rather spend that money on schools that are suffering and need some extra assistance with teachers."

But the money is a top priority for the governor, who says he will veto the whole budget if he doesn't get all $120 million. Lt. Gov Toni Jennings says she and Bush were caught off guard by how some of the money is being spent, but she says the money is still a must. "Upwards of 90 percent of it has gone to bonuses for teachers and recognition for teachers and that is exactly where it is supposed to go."

While still far from being settled, the latest charges of misspending the school bonus money adds fuel to the budget fight over something that has been controversial since it's inception.

Since the recognition money was first handed out three years ago, $306 million has been distributed to 1,500 schools.