Gov. Rick Scott made a brief stop at Tampa's Mitchell Elementary School on Monday, seeking to generate additional support for his "record" education funding plan in advance of the looming 2018 legislative session.
Surrounded by dozens of school children, whom he invited to stop by his office for a photo, Scott talked of his effort to increase per-student spending by $200, as part of a plan to bring Florida's public education budget to its highest dollar amount ever.
He encouraged the small audience of school district and other area education leaders, as well as those watching news reports, to do their part if they back his ideas.
"We've got to make sure we're all focused," Scott said. "Talk to your House and Senate members. I can advocate for this budget, but they actually pass the budget."
Last year, the House killed his initiative to leave local property tax rates stable, allowing school districts to collect increased revenue stemming from rising values. Scott has again recommended the same idea to bolster his spending goal, and House leaders have reiterated their opposition.
Asked how he would deal with any hole created if lawmakers reject his revenue projections, Scott deflected.
"We have the money in the budget," he said. "I'm just going to fight hard to get it. We have a $3 billion surplus in this budget."
Hillsborough County school district leaders, who attended the press conference, noted that they face financial constraints that the governor's proposal only begins to resolve.
They said they will lobby for the added funding, which superintendent Jeff Eakins called a "strong commitment that we really appreciate."
But they, too, acknowledged that the need is greater than what's on the table, particularly as their large and growing district tries to keep up with the pace of enrollment.
Board member Lynn Gray said the district likely will need to pursue a local sales tax to help pay for its needs. Eakins held out hope for Scott's idea on property tax rates, but suggested if it can't work, perhaps the state can ease some of the under-funded mandates that districts face.
"Having some local autonomy, that's an issue I think we should continue to push on," Eakins said.
Board chairwoman Sally Harris said she's already made appointments to meet with the district's local delegation to discuss these issues. That will be critical, board member Cindy Stuart agreed.
"I don't think (Scott) can predict what's going to happen in the House and Senate," she said. "We saw that last year. … That's where our work is, with House and Senate members."
Lawmakers are scheduled to return to Tallahassee for more committee meetings the week of Dec. 4.