Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

PolitiFact Florida | Tampa Bay Times
Sorting out the truth in state politics

PolitiFact Florida: Is that a public school teacher in Gov. Rick Scott's new TV ad?

Gov. Rick Scott met Heather Viniar when he visited Immokalee High in November on one of his “Let’s Get to Work” days. She now appears in a Republican Party of Florida television ad.

Collier County Public Schools

Gov. Rick Scott met Heather Viniar when he visited Immokalee High in November on one of his “Let’s Get to Work” days. She now appears in a Republican Party of Florida television ad.

Less than two years on the job, Florida Gov. Rick Scott appears to have launched his re-election campaign, highlighting his accomplishments in a pair of television ads paid for by the Republican Party of Florida.

In one of the ads, he is backed by a curious surrogate.

The setting: a high school classroom. Scott, in his trademark blue button-down, is joined by a woman who says she teaches American government. The unidentified woman goes on to praise the hospital executive-turned-state leader.

"Florida had huge budget gaps, but he balanced our budget without raising taxes," the woman says. "Now, Gov. Scott and the Republican Legislature are investing in our kids — $1 billion in new education funding, more funding for reading initiatives."

We'll talk about the $1 billion in K-12 funding in a moment, but we wondered about the woman.

Scott, after all, picked some pretty high-profile fights with the state's 180,000 public school teachers in 2011 — supporting and signing a bill that tied teacher pay raises to the test scores of their students, championing a proposal that cut teacher pay 3 percent to help the state balance its budget, and lobbying lawmakers on a failed proposal that would strip power from the teachers' union by prohibiting it from collecting dues through automatic payroll deductions.

As best as reporters in Tallahassee could figure, Scott didn't even visit a public school to inspect the curriculum or meet teachers until he was already eight months on the job.

So is that a public school teacher now shilling for Scott? Or is it an actor?

Before we give it away, let's go back to that $1 billion in new education funding — because it's a bit of a red herring. The money, which was included in the 2012-13 state budget Scott signed Tuesday, does not make up for the $1.3 billion in cuts the Republican Legislature and Scott passed in 2011.

The $1 billion in funding also must pay for an influx of more than 30,000 new students, a decline in property tax revenue for schools and loss of federal stimulus money for education. PolitiFact Florida previously rated the claim of $1 billion in "new state funding" Half True.

Now as for the teacher, she's real.

Her name is Heather Viniar. She's 26, and a first-year teacher at Immokalee High School in Collier County.

She and Scott have met before.

Scott visited Immokalee High in November on one of his "Let's Get to Work" days. Scott taught two of Viniar's classes and also had dinner with her. Scott then invited Viniar to Tallahassee and mentioned her in his second "State of the State" address.

"Heather Viniar is here with us today in the gallery," Scott said on Jan. 10. "Heather is a first-year teacher in the rural farming community of Immokalee. I had the opportunity to meet her when I taught school for a day this fall. Heather is very committed to her students. She teaches American government at Immokalee High School. Her classes reach all kinds of our students including honors, advanced placement and English language learners every day."

Viniar told us she recorded the ad, which began airing a week ago, in an Orlando classroom. She was there shooting from about 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and was reimbursed for the gas to make the trip. (Scott was there from about 1 to 3 p.m., she said.)

No one in school has brought the ad up to her, and the school district hadn't heard of it — despite its heavy rotation on local television stations. The Republican Party of Florida says the ad buy was "substantial" but has not put a dollar figure to it.

Financial records are not yet public record.

"No one has said anything yet," Viniar said. "I don't know if that means they haven't seen it."

"In all honesty, I don't see why anyone would be negative about it," she continued. "The commercial was all about giving $1 billion to students. We're all in the same profession, all doing the same thing — working for the kids. There shouldn't be anything bad about it."

Viniar — who switched her party affiliation in 2011 from Democrat to Republican and did not vote in the 2010 governor's election, according to voting records — said she's aware that many public school teachers and the teachers' union have often opposed Scott's policies.

"I tend to try not to listen to gossip and things everyone else has to say," she said. "People will say a whole lot. It's just not necessary. What other people have to say about it is fine, but I'm still just going to teach the kids and do what I can for them. I'm here for my students."

Nothing in this is to say Scott would have broken some code if he hired an actor to portray a public school teacher, or if he used stock video of a nonteacher teaching, or if the teacher turned out to be a campaign contributor. (Viniar didn't give to Scott in 2010.)

But in this case, Scott's television supporter is the real deal.

"It's not that I have political motives," Viniar said. "I care about the students. I want to give the kids the best education they can get."

PolitiFact Florida: Is that a public school teacher in Gov. Rick Scott's new TV ad? 04/18/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 8:16pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Trump awards Medal of Honor to Vietnam-era Army medic (w/video)


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Monday turned a Medal of Honor ceremony for a Vietnam-era Army medic who risked his life to help wounded comrades into a mini homework tutorial for the boy and girl who came to watch their grandfather be enshrined "into the history of our nation."

    WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 23:  Retired U.S. Army Capt. Gary Rose (L) receives a standing ovation after being awarded the Medal of Honor by U.S. President Donald Trump during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House October 23, 2017 in Washington, DC. Rose, 69, is being recognized for risking his life while serving as a medic with the 5th Special Force Group and the Military Assistance Command Studies and Observations Group during ‘Operation Tailwind’ in September 1970. Ignoring his own injuries, Rose helped treat 50 soldiers over four days when his unit joined local fighters to attack North Vietnamese forces in Laos - officially off limits for combat at the time.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) 775062921
  2. Long day of diplomacy: Tillerson visits Afghanistan, Iraq


    BAGHDAD — Far from the Washington murmurs about his future, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson traveled to two of America's enduring war zones Monday, prodding leaders in Afghanistan and Iraq to reach out to longtime rivals.

    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, center, speaks Monday at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, accompanied by Gen. John Nicholson, left, and Special Charge d’Affaires Amb. Hugo Llorens.
  3. Head-on crash kills Wesley Chapel teacher and Zephyrhills man


    TAMPA — Two men, including a high school math teacher, were killed Monday in a head-on crash on Morris Bridge Road, deputies said.

  4. Pinellas sees slight increase in black and first-year teachers


    A year after the Pinellas County school district was chastised in a state report for clustering inexperienced teachers in the state's most struggling schools, the district has reported a first look at its teacher corps.

    The Pinellas County school district has taken a first look at first-year teachers in struggling schools and minority hiring, both of which ticked slightly upward.
  5. Editorial: Trump owes apology to fallen soldier's Miami family


    There is no more sacred, solemn role for a president than to comfort grieving family members of soldiers who have given their lives in service of their country. Those calls cannot be easy, and some presidents are better at it than others. Yet President Donald Trump and his administration continue to engage in a …