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Scott pitches $542 million school budget increase

TALLAHASSEE — Facing one of the best state budget outlooks in recent memory, Gov. Rick Scott on Monday made a pitch to increase public school spending by $542 million.

Scott said his proposed budget would drive education spending to a record high of $18.84 billion and called the plan "historic."

But the proposed increase fell short of the $1.25 billion increase Scott recommended last year, and the $1 billion boost he suggested the year before.

What's more, critics said, the money would not be enough to cover new costs for school districts, including the technology upgrades needed for new, computer-based tests.

"The needs for Florida students continue to grow and the mandates passed down from elected leaders continue to multiply," Florida Education Association president Andy Ford said.

Scott is expected to release his entire budget proposal Wednesday.

State economists are predicting the state will collect $850 million more in revenue this coming year than during the current budget year — the largest increase since the economic downturn.

Scott has already said he will seek $30 million next year for a new workforce training initiative focusing on science, technology, engineering and mathematics as well as $130 million for Everglades-related projects.

But Scott, a Republican who is running for re-election, will also focus his energy on tax cuts. He has unveiled a proposal to reduce taxes and fees statewide by $500 million.

Scott did not release many details about his proposed education budget Monday. Neither the governor's office nor the state education department could say if the proposal included money for technology upgrades or performance pay for teachers.

It was also unclear what the proposed per-pupil spending would be, or how it would compare with last year's per-student allocation of $6,776.

Some details were released, including Scott's desire to spend $8.4 million in professional development for principals and assistant principals. The nonprofit Florida TaxWatch has made school leadership a top priority in recent months.

Scott also wants to spend $5 million to help teachers transition to the Florida Standards, the new education benchmarks based on the controversial Common Core State Standards.

His suggested higher education budget includes $2 billion for state colleges and about $3.6 billion for the state university system. Of the total for universities, $40 million would be set aside for performance-based incentives.

Said Scott: "Our students deserve the best quality education, and this funding will help to ensure that every degree achieved is followed by a great career."

Both Education Commissioner Pam Stewart and State University System chancellor Marshall Criser III issued statements praising the governor's proposed education budget.

But Florida Democratic Party Chair Allison Tant called it Scott's "latest re-election campaign stunt."

"Rick Scott thinks he needs to begin this election year by rewriting his record," Tant said. "But Floridians remember Rick Scott's record. Scott has consistently put corporate tax giveaways first and put the needs of Florida's kids last."

Scott's previous proposals for education spending have been closely watched.

In his first year in office, Scott proposed nearly $3.3 billion in cuts to education. About $1.3 billion of those cuts were included in the final budget.

The next year, Scott reversed course and said the Legislature should inject $1 billion back into the education budget.

He recommended another $1.25 billion be added to education spending last year. Lawmakers ultimately agreed to add $1 billion, including $480 million that was set aside for teacher raises.

Contact Kathleen McGrory at kmcgrory@MiamiHerald.com.

Scott pitches $542 million school budget increase 01/27/14 [Last modified: Monday, January 27, 2014 10:11pm]

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