TALLAHASSEE — Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Monday called for spending more money on the state’s public schools, although his latest request is less than half of what he pushed for in 2013.
Scott’s pitch for more money also comes amid a tough re-election battle where his political opponents will try to remind voters that the Republican governor called for large cuts to education during his first year in office.
Scott, during a stop at a Delray Beach elementary school, asked state legislators to boost spending this fall by $542 million.
A year ago Scott wanted a $1.2 billion increase that included enough money to grant every teacher a $2,500 pay raise. Teachers wound up getting raises, but none of them got the exact amount that Scott pledged.
But the Scott administration maintains that this year’s funding request is enough to boost overall public school funding to “historic” levels of nearly $19 billion. That total includes both local and state tax money
“We need to provide the tools, training and funding to give our students the best chance for success, “ Scott said in a statement.
Local school districts seemed positive about Monday’s news.
“I look forward to hearing further details of the budget so we can begin to analyze its potential impact for the year,” said Ami Desamours, Lee County’s assistant superintendent for business and finance, in a statement.
Collier County Superintendent Kamela Patton said she appreciates Scott’s “continued commitment to an investment in education.”
“This is the beginning of a lengthy legislative process,” she said in a statement. “We use this as a starting point, and we monitor the progress of the legislative session to determine the positive impact to the district’s budget. We look forward to additional details being released.”
Scott plans to release his complete budget recommendations on Wednesday. His office did not provide many details about the education portion — including how much his request would increase per-student spending or how much the increase relies on additional local property taxes to pay for it.
During his first year in office and confronted with a budget gap, Scott called for a nearly 10 percent cut in overall spending on public schools but he also proposed large tax cuts that he said would stimulate the economy. Republican legislators responded by enacting much smaller tax cuts and they pared back the size of public school cuts to $1.3 billion.
This year Scott and state legislators have a budget surplus to work with, but Scott wants to use $500 million of that surplus to cut existing taxes and fees by $500 million, including rolling back a 2009 increase in auto registration fees.
Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, said he would support any increase in money set aside for schools, but said it was “not adequate” to deal with continued increases in public school enrollment and the new demands placed on teachers through new tests and standards.
“The needs for Florida students continue to grow and the mandates passed down from elected leaders continue to multiply,” Ford said in a statement.
Democrats, meanwhile, sharply criticized Scott’s latest budget as an attempt to rewrite his record just months before he tries to win a second term.
“When they go to the polls this November, Floridians won’t remember this governor’s politically motivated education budget,” said Allison Tant, chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party. “They’ll remember that when they needed this governor’s help most, he ignored them.”
This year’s education budget recommendations from Scott include $8.4 million in professional development for principals and assistant principals as well as $5 million for training and technical assistance for teachers related to the implementation of contentious new state standards. Florida is putting in place standards largely based on “Common Core State Standards” for all grade levels during the next school year.
The standards have been criticized as being part of a “federal intrusion” into state education and a strategy to force children to take more high-stakes testing. Much of the criticism has come from conservative activists and some members of the Republican Party of Florida.
Scott’s budget request for education will also include $2 billion for state colleges and $3.59 billion for the state university system although the Scott administration provided very few details. The budget request for state universities includes $40 million for so-called performance funding that would tie monetary awards to how well universities perform in several categories. Universities had asked for $50 million.