The students will form what organizers are calling "the inaugural class" of the Lawton Chiles Leadership Corps. Modeled after the successful "Truth" campaign for tobacco, the group will train more than 300 students from across Florida to "speak up with one loud voice for education.''
The conference is being organized by Bud Chiles, the late governor's son, and it has the support of Sens. Mel Martinez, Bill Nelson and form Sen. Bob Graham. After the conference, students will be asked to lead a yearlong effort to gather a million signatures on a pledge to improve education and put children first. Partners include statewide education groups and health care coaltions.
“Our state has become a national embarrassment on children’s issues, and today we’re at or near the bottom in most indicators of performance,” said Chiles, president of The Lawton Chiles Foundation, and coordinator of the Worst to First effort. “We’re energizing our youth to go out there and fight for a change in the status quo.''
The organization ticks off a laundry list of embarassments, such as Florida ranking 49th in the percentage of children without health insurance, 47th in the percentage of pregnant women receiving prenatal care in the first trimester, 36th in the nation in the percent of low-birthweight babies and 50th in per capita spending on education.