Former Gov. Charlie Crist wants voters to see a stark contrast between himself and Republican Gov. Rick Scott on public education.
In his announcement speech for the governor's race last week, Crist took credit for protecting teachers' jobs when he was the Republican-elected governor from 2007-2011. (He's now a Democrat.)
"I am proud of my record as the governor investing in public education, and stopping the layoffs of some 20,000 school teachers during the global economic meltdown."
Were 20,000 layoffs of Florida teachers prevented during the recession, and does Crist get credit for that?
The Crist campaign told us the basis of his claim was the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the $787 billion federal stimulus bill pushed by President Barack Obama.
The Florida Department of Education published information in 2010 about how many "instructional personnel" the Recovery Act affected. The department identified 19,166 full-time equivalent jobs affecting a total of 31,003 employees for the quarter ending June 30, 2010. Instructional personnel included elementary and secondary classroom teachers as well as guidance counselors, librarians and audio-visual workers, to name just a few.
Many news reports stated that without the stimulus funds, the state would have had to make massive cuts.
The stimulus money was paid out over two years: In 2009-10, nearly $908 million went to K-12 education, and another $873 million the year after, said Ruth Melton, director of government relations for the Florida School Boards Association.
"The infusion of this federal cash was tremendously important in keeping school districts solvent during the recession," Melton said.
We can't say with certainty that without the stimulus dollars, 20,000 teachers would have been laid off, because each district could have made different decisions about how to make their budgets work.
"It could have meant actually more teachers than reported," Melton said. At the other extreme, some districts could have laid off more expensive teachers who were close to retirement — so that could have lowered the number.
Now Crist didn't get to vote on passing the stimulus bill — that was up to Congress.
But Crist skipped a Florida Cabinet meeting to campaign with Obama for the stimulus in Fort Myers, and he went on national talk shows and across the state selling the plan. He lobbied members of Florida's congressional delegation from both parties to pass the stimulus.
"We know that it's important that we pass a stimulus package," Crist said on Feb. 10, 2009, amid "Yes, we can!" cheers as he introduced the Democratic president in Fort Myers. "This is not about partisan politics. This is about rising above that, helping America and reigniting our economy."
Crist and Obama exchanged a friendly hug, an image that came back to haunt Crist when he ran for Senate in 2010.
While many governors accepted the stimulus money, Crist was one of the few prominent Republicans to actively and publicly support the stimulus, a choice that won him accolades from Obama. Crist defended his choice to accept stimulus dollars when he faced heat from his own Republican Party.
Still, in accepting the money, Crist did the same thing as many governors across the country, including those who weren't cheerleading the stimulus.
Nationwide, the stimulus doled out more than $93 billion in education funds and funded about 368,000 school employees' jobs during the 2009-10 school year, according to a February 2011 article in the Hechinger Report, a respected publication about education.
States didn't go on a hiring spree, but used the money to prevent mass layoffs and backfill other funding losses. It wasn't a cure-all, though: Some teachers were still laid off, depending on the individual school district.
So, Crist was a big-time cheerleader for the stimulus, which included money to keep teachers and other education workers on the job, but Crist didn't have much of a role in getting the stimulus passed. Plus, many governors took the stimulus money to save teaching jobs, so in all likelihood, Florida would have gotten the money without Crist's high-profile support.
We rate this claim Half True.
Edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com/Florida.