Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Politics

Gov. Rick Scott proposes record high education spending in Florida

TALLAHASSEE — After promising to boost education spending to a record high, Gov. Rick Scott on Monday released a plan to spend $7,176 per student in 2015-16.

His proposed figure is $261 more than what's currently being spent, and $50 more than the all-time high set in 2007-08.

"Because our budget is going up, now we have the highest per-pupil funding for K-12 education in the history of this state," Scott said, drawing applause at Atlantic Technical College in Coconut Creek.

If adjusted for inflation, Scott's proposed figure falls about $640 short of the high watermark, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index inflation calculator. Still, it was enough to win praise from some of the governor's toughest critics.

"We appreciate that he is honoring a promise he made on the campaign trail," Florida Education Association vice president Joanne McCall said.

Scott wants to boost the entire K-12 education budget from $18.9 billion to $19.75 billion, he said Monday. A little more than $11 billion would come from state coffers. The rest would be funded by property taxes.

He is expected to release more details later this month.

Scott's recommendation is only a starting point. State lawmakers will spend the 60-day session crafting a spending plan for Florida that includes a projected $1 billion surplus.

After years of deep cuts, many groups will be looking for more money.

House Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Erik Fresen, R-Miami, pointed out that lawmakers also will have to account for a "significant, unanticipated increase" in student enrollment.

"But it will always be the House's position to make education the largest share of spending of all general revenue available," he said.

Senate PreK-12 Education Committee Chairman John Legg, R-Trinity, called the governor's directions on education spending "very positive."

"I think you're going to have a very responsive Legislature," Legg said.

Scott made education a priority during his 2014 campaign for re-election.

It wasn't always that way. When he took office in 2011 — under different economic circumstances — he proposed a $3.3 billion cut to public schools. State lawmakers ultimately approved a $1.3 billion reduction.

Scott has other budget goals for 2015. He has said he also wants to reduce taxes and fees by $1 billion over the next two years, as well as increase spending for seaports, roads and the environment.

Sen. Dwight Bullard, a Miami Democrat who sits on the Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee, said the math doesn't add up.

"I can definitely stand by an increase in education spending," Bullard said. "But if the governor has not made a proposal to generate new revenue, it will be next to impossible to do the things he wants to do."

Monday's announcement came on the heels of a national report that dinged Florida for spending too little on public schools.

Last week, the national magazine Education Week ranked Florida's public school system 28th-best in the nation. The state's ranking was buoyed by above-average marks for student achievement. But Florida earned a D+ in the "school finance" category.

When asked about the ranking Monday, Scott reeled off statistics that put the state in a more favorable light including "our fourth-graders are No. 2 in reading."

In 2013, PolitiFact Florida fact-checked Scott's claim that "in the fourth grade reading, we're second to Singapore in the world."

PolitiFact found Florida students finished second in overall reading to Hong Kong, not Singapore — and that Florida was the only state included because it paid to participate in the ranking. Still, PolitiFact rated the claim Mostly True.

Times staff writer Jeffrey S. Solochek contributed to this report. Contact Kathleen McGrory at [email protected]

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