TALLAHASSEE — Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who has been shifting his attention to education during his second year in office, is reaching out to tens of thousands of teachers, high school seniors and incoming college students across the state.
In what may be a first for a sitting governor, Scott this month asked school districts, community colleges and universities to send out letters penned by the governor.
"The letters, both to high school seniors and college freshmen, was to get them engaged to really think about their future," Scott said Friday. "What I wanted them to think about is the world is changing. The world's changing fast."
Scott, who made headlines when he questioned the need for more anthropology majors at the state's universities, tells students in his letter that they need to focus on education that will help them get a job.
He mentions his own background — including that he spent time living in public housing — and suggests that the students either work or take an internship while in school. He cautions college freshmen about "taking on debt."
"I focused my education in the areas where I believed I could secure a job paying well enough for me to build a family," says Scott, who was a lawyer before he helped start the giant health care chain Columbia/HCA.
In his letter to teachers, Scott says he wants them to know that "we have listened to Florida's educators who are concerned about 'teaching to the test.' "
Scott recently has questioned the state's emphasis on the use of high-stakes testing but has not offered any alternatives. The state is already transitioning to a new version of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test and the use of end-of-course exams.
The governor also thanked teachers for their time, dedication and "selfless practice of teaching."
Scott's move to send out the letters comes while he has been on a weeklong "education listening tour" around the state.
Scott has battled low poll numbers since he took office nearly two years ago, some of which has been blamed on his decision to back major budget cuts to education his first year. Scott earlier this year proposed restoring $1 billion in education funding, although the amount did not cover what was cut in 2011.
The Scott administration sent the letters out last week, but not all school districts have distributed them. A spokesman for Hillsborough County schools said the letters will be distributed at a time when it will not overwhelm the email system. Stephen Hegarty said the district would probably send teachers a link to the letter.
Randy Hanna, the chancellor of the Florida College System, said some colleges opted to send the letter to all students, not only freshman.