Gov. Rick Scott will propose a $1.2 billion boost in education funding Thursday when he unveils his spending plan for the coming fiscal year, he told reporters during a Wednesday speech to newspaper editors.
Speaking to the annual Associated Press Legislative Planning Session, Scott said he would ask lawmakers to increase spending on public schools by around 6.5 percent, to about $6,800 per student. While that would mark an increase over the last two years, it would still be off the all-time high for per-student education funding.
Scott had already floated a $2,500-a-year raise for all Florida teachers; that $480 million would be included in the $1.2 billion increase for K-12 education. If approved, it would mark the second consecutive year that Scott asked for — and the Legislature approved — an increase in education funding of about $1 billion.
“In this budget, I am doubling down on our billion-dollar investment last year in education,” Scott said.
The governor said that the recent recovery in the economy, and a projected rebound in state tax revenues, gave him more room to push for increased spending on schools.
“We made the hard choices to recover and get back on track,” he said. “Now we must make the smart choices to invest in Florida’s future.”
Republican leaders in the Legislature said they welcomed Scott’s proposal, but also questioned whether they would be able to fund all of it. The most recent forecast by state economists estimated the state would have a surplus of about $829 million in the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Lawmakers have been cautious about relying even on that funding, noting that automatic spending cuts by the federal government could harm the state’s economy if President Barack Obama and Congress don’t agree to alternatives.
“Certainly, to get to that number, you would have to make some cuts somewhere else,” House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said in his own comments to the gathering.
Scott said he would more clearly spell out how he would provide the money for the education increase in his full budget proposal, set to be unveiled Thursday. [It remains unclear, for example, to what extent the proposal weighs in favor of charter schools, as opposed to traditional public schools.]
Democrats, meanwhile, credited Scott for the current increase but assailed him for cutting school funding in the first place. Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, painted it as another step in a political reinvention aimed at Scott’s 2014 re-election campaign.
“When he’s now throwing gimmicks and dollars at education after he came in and slashed education tremendously, [it] shows that he’s finally admitted that ‘I was wrong to try to starve education,'” Smith said.
–Brandon Larrabee, News Service of Florida