TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott, who unveiled his first budget in 2011 with the warning that “every school district is going to have to … do better with less,” four years later is striking a different tune.
In the middle of a heated campaign with likely Democratic nominee Charlie Crist, Scott’s campaign has unveiled an education budget that offers up record spending for public schools and looks to bolster bonus programs offered to public teachers.
“We want to make sure that our students have every opportunity to succeed in the classroom and in their careers, and we want to make sure our teachers have every tool they need to make that possible,” Scott said in a news release.
Education has taken center stage in the campaign.
Crist, a former Republican governor, has focused his attention on the fact that the first budget Scott signed into law included a $1.3 billion public education cut. Scott, meantime, has stressed that after Crist’s first budget included record per-pupil funding, public education was cut by more than $1 billion over the remainder of Crist’s administration.
Last week Scott’s office – not the campaign – rolled out his education funding proposal, which included a record $19.6 billion, or $7,176-per-pupil. That’s $50 more than the per-pupil record Crist signed into law in 2007, which will likely become a talking point for Scott.
Because that budget announcement came five months earlier than last year, Scott’s opponents immediately cast it as political.
“This proposal, which would have to be approved by the Legislature long after November’s election, seems very much like a desperate attempt to win votes to cover his record,” Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, said after the announcement.
His group, the state’s largest teachers union, has endorsed Crist and taken Scott to court on issues including Senate Bill 736. The bill was the first one Scott signed after taking office and, in part, ties teacher pay to student performance.
In Tampa Monday, Crist said he hasn’t reviewed Scott’s education proposals and couldn’t comment on them specifically.
“What did he say? He’s going to spend billions and billions on education and set a record next year?” Crist said. “What we ought to do is judge him by his deeds — the fact that he cut education by $1.3 billion when he first got in. If Rick Scott were to get re-elected he’d go back to old, bad Rick.”
In a news release Monday, the Florida Democratic Party said Scott’s budget proposal for next year, with per pupil spending of $7,176, when adjusted for inflation, is still lower than all four years of Crist’s term as governor.
Scott is now proposing increasing from $10,000 to $20,000 the award for Florida’s teacher of the year and giving every district teacher of the year $10,000. Scott also signed into law $480 million for teacher pay increases during the 2013 legislative session.
Scott is also calling for a “comprehensive investigation” of state standardized tests, adopted under former Gov. Jeb Bush — a major figure in state and national Republican politics who has endorsed Scott’s campaign.
The review will look at factors like why students must take the test, how much time is given for the tests, and what types of students must take the test.
Scott also wants a committee to take another look at the Florida Standards, a set of standardized tests based on the now controversial Common Core standards, another Bush-supported plan.
That committee’s proposed changes could come after the state made a round of tweaks to the standards last year.
Crist said he favors the Common Core standards, “as long as it’s done appropriately, and what I mean by that is not over-testing … We need testing but within reason.”
Tribune staff writer William March contributed to this report.