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Rick Scott's education priorities: Keep funding steady, expand charter schools

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott wants to hold public school funding steady next year, expand charter schools, put a hold on new testing requirements for students and promises no "war on teachers."

The Republican governor has crafted a set of education proposals to send to the Legislature in the spring with the goal of better preparing students for college and jobs. His plan comes as he nears the midway point of his first term and Florida moves toward a post-FCAT model of measuring student achievement.

"Every year we make a bunch of changes. You can't do that," Scott said Monday. "The system is tired of change, just constant change."

The Times/Herald obtained a draft of a five-page summary of Scott's ideas, entitled "College and Careers 1st." Scott's proposals will be made public Thursday at an education forum in Fort Myers.

Most recommendations track previous Scott positions, such as opposing spending cuts or supporting charter school expansion. But the paper offers the most detail yet of his priorities, such as:

• Holding per-pupil public school spending "at least steady" next year. Early projections indicate modest growth in state revenues, lessening the need for deep cuts in government programs.

• Suspending new testing requirements that don't correlate to the Common Core State Standards to be implemented statewide in 2014. Most schools have begun pivoting toward new standards in reading and math.

• Increasing competition by creating new options for schools and students, such as deregulating school districts and giving schools flexibility in buying textbooks and classroom materials.

• Steering public money to mentoring programs with the highest success rates at helping struggling students. That proposal fizzled last year amid political opposition, and programs such as Big Brothers Big Sisters and Take Stock in Children enjoy political support among lawmakers.

• Lifting enrollment caps on charter schools, removing barriers to choice options in low-performing areas and letting school districts operate their own "charter innovation schools."

"Our local school districts are going to keep getting better if we give them the authority to do it," Scott said.

Charter schools and other for-profit education firms have become much bigger political players this cycle, lavishing more than $1.8 million on candidates and committees, according to a Miami Herald analysis. But the review found that teacher unions still contribute much more money.

Miami-Dade superintendent Alberto Carvalho said it's not enough to stabilize school funding, spending must increase. That's an idea shared by Florida PTA activist Mindy Gould.

"Bring us back to the levels where we were five or six years ago," Gould said.

Colleen Wood of the education advocacy group 50th No More questioned Scott's timing, noting that a group of superintendents hasn't yet finalized recommendations on reducing teacher paperwork.

"This governor makes it impossible to trust him," Wood said.

State Board of Education member Roberto Martinez praised Scott for wanting to expand charter schools in low-income areas, and Miami-Dade School Board member Raquel Regalado said Scott is still learning that schools are what people care about most.

"At least he recognizes that education is the one thing all Floridians are concerned about," Regalado said.

Scott is nearing the midway point of his four-year term and says he will run for a second term in 2014. His plan reflects an ongoing effort to focus on education, which he ranks as equal in importance with creating jobs, the signature issue that got him elected in 2010.

"We're not (having) a war on teachers," Scott said. "We're not going to teach to the test."

Polls show Scott's popularity remains low in Florida, especially with women. He has traveled widely throughout the state in the past year, often highlighting education.

Scott alienated voters in 2011 when he cut $1.3 billion from public schools, and insisted that $1 billion be restored in the current year's budget.

Incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, endorsed Scott's plans.

"We need a break from more changes and more testing," said Gaetz, a former Okaloosa County school superintendent. He said Florida should promote digital learning and rely less on "1950s style textbooks" in classrooms.

The state's major teachers union, the Florida Education Association, said it had not seen Scott's proposals and could not comment.

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com.

Rick Scott's education priorities: Keep funding steady, expand charter schools 10/22/12 [Last modified: Monday, October 22, 2012 10:56pm]
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