Continuing to roll out an election-year budget full of politically popular spending ideas, Gov. Rick Scott on Monday proposed boosting education funding by more than half a billion dollars in the fiscal year that begins July 1.
“We need to provide the tools, training and funding to give our students the best chance for success,” Scott said in a statement from his office.
The bulk of the new spending — $542 million — would go to public schools. While that is far lower than the approximately $1 billion increases Scott sought in each of the last two years, his office touted the fact that it would bring spending on education to the highest level in state history in terms of raw dollars (though unadjusted for inflation).
The governor also proposed another $40 million for state colleges and $40 million for universities, with both amounts to be divvied up based on performance and measurements of how well students do after they graduate. Scott has pushed those schools to focus more on making sure that students get high-paying jobs when they enter the workforce.
“We expect our students to get the best education at our state institutions of higher education that leads to a great job and career. … Our students deserve the best quality education, and this funding will help to ensure that every degree achieved is followed by a great career,” he said.
The reaction from the Florida Education Association, the state’s primary teachers union, was more tempered. While saying the FEA was “appreciative for any increase,” FEA President Andy Ford said per-student funding would still fall short of the amount set aside in the 2007-08 budget year.
According to Ford, per-student funding would be about the same under Scott’s new budget as it was when the governor was elected.
“The FEA believes the existing statutory policy mandates that involve Florida’s accountability system, its standards, its state and local assessments, implementation schedules, performance pay, material needs, technology and technology infrastructure will absorb this increase and much more,” Ford said.
Democrats were more cutting, with state party Chairwoman Allison Tant saying Scott was “rewriting his record” to help his re-election bid.
“Scott has consistently put corporate tax giveaways first and put the needs of Florida’s kids last,” Tant said in a statement. “When they go to the polls this November, Floridians won’t remember this governor’s politically motivated education budget. They’ll remember that when they needed this governor’s help most, he ignored them.”
In recent weeks, Scott has unveiled a slew of initiatives focused on increasing spending on child welfare, public safety and economic development. He’s expected to present his entire budget Wednesday, when he meets with newspaper editors and reporters from across the state.
–Brandon Larrabee, News Service of Florida