TAMPA — A group representing the liberal wing of the state Democratic Party has issued a report that compares Charlie Crist’s and Nan Rich’s stances on education, favorably for Rich and less so for Crist.
The report, by the state party’s Progressive Caucus, notes that as a former Republican, Crist backed drastic changes in education proposed by former Gov. Jeb Bush.
Susan Smith of Tampa, president of the caucus, said the Democratic primary race between Crist and Rich is “a referendum on Jeb Bush’s education agenda.”
“We can see a clear difference” in the two candidates, Smith said. “Both support increased funding for public education, but Senator Rich strongly opposes former Governor Jeb Bush’s privatization agenda.”
She said Crist “appears to support Bush policies,” which Crist denies.
Even as a Republican, Crist’s campaign responded, he bucked his former party and took actions favored by public education advocates. That included including vetoing a 2010 bill to evaluate teachers based on students’ test scores, and accepting money under President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus program, likely preventing teacher layoffs.
“Charlie Crist took stimulus funding to save 20,000 teachers’ jobs and invested heavily in education, even during the midst of the great recession,” said an email statement from Crist campaign spokesman Brendan Gilfillan. “Per-pupil funding was higher under Charlie than it is under Rick Scott, and Charlie vetoed Senate Bill 6 because it was bad for our kids and our schools. Rick Scott signed similar legislation that gave Tallahassee politicians more control over local schools.”
The report notes those actions, but it reflects the continuing mistrust of Crist, who became a Democrat in 2012, by some in the party, and their inclination toward Rich, a former state senator from Weston and a long-time champion of Democratic causes including education and health care.
The report notes that as an elected Republican education commissioner in 2000-02, Crist helped implement the Bush’s education agenda, including school grading based on standardized tests and tax subsidies for private school tuition.
Crist has since said his backing of vouchers and attacks on the public school teachers union were a mistake. That union, the Florida Education Association, has endorsed him in this race.
The report also dings Crist for currently backing expansion of a program that funds private school tuition vouchers — but Crist wants to apply the expansion to public schools.
The program gives corporations a tax credit for donations to help students pay private school tuition. Crist proposes including donations to public schools.
“Charlie will restore Rick Scott’s cuts to education and level the playing field so that public schools have the same opportunity to benefit from corporate contributions as private schools,” said Gilfillan.
But Smith said that could include for-profit charter schools, an object of suspicion from traditional public education advocates. She said corporations “shouldn’t get to pick and choose what their taxes go for — you and I can’t do that.”