PolitiFact Florida: Charlie Crist touts per-pupil spending vs. Rick Scott

Published July 20, 2014

Charlie Crist has gone on the offensive against Gov. Rick Scott, launching a TV ad campaign and pulling no punches in interviews.

In one free-wheeling discussion with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board last week, former Gov. Crist attacked Scott's education spending.

"I can only imagine how nice it would be to serve as governor when you have a surplus of almost $3 billion. That's what this guy has right now," Crist said. "And in spite of it, he still hasn't matched what I did during the recession for per-pupil funding for kids. In fact, he's about $200 less."

PolitiFact Florida has done many checks on claims about school spending by these two candidates, but we wanted to know if Scott really budgeted $200 less per student than Crist. Good thing both governors have permanent records for us to check.

Budget crunch

As a quick overview, the Florida Education Finance Program is the main source of dollars for K-12 education. By law, it's a combination of state and local funding. Each school district must contribute property tax dollars, called the "required local effort," in an amount dictated by the state. In recent years, the state has also received federal stimulus dollars.

Scott has been touting the $18.9 billion K-12 education spending budget he signed this year as the largest in state history. We rated that Half True, because it was the largest in terms of dollars spent, but not after inflation and not per pupil.

When we break down the most recent budget, it works out to $6,937 in spending per pupil. Even though the budget is higher, Florida schools now have a higher enrollment, roughly 90,000 more students than in 2007, according to state projections at the start of the 2014-15 school year.

Crist has been contending that his per-pupil spending was higher, referring to the $7,126 per student allocated in his $18.7 billion education budget for 2007-08. That works out to an $189 difference.

But considering both governors' terms as a whole, there's more to the story. Education budgets declined during Crist's administration, with a corresponding drop in per-pupil spending, save for a slight bounce his last year in office.

Scott, meanwhile, came into office looking to slash $3.3 billion out of the education budget, resulting in a $700 per pupil cut. But lawmakers balked. He settled for knocking $1.3 billion out of the budget, dropping per-student dollars by $540, due in part to a loss in federal stimulus money that had been shoring up spending for Crist's last two budgets. Then Scott's numbers started to steadily rise (See accompanying box).

In context, Crist said Scott "still hasn't matched what I did during the recession for per-pupil funding for kids." Crist signed his first budget in 2007, a year before the Great Recession began. In 2008, education funding dropped to less than what the 2014 budget now offers. If you compared the 2008-09 budget with Scott's current budget, Crist is actually behind.

However, these numbers don't account for inflation. If they did, that 2007-08 number would equal $8,176 in 2014 dollars, $1,200 more than what is currently budgeted per student.

Even at the lowest spending during Crist's tenure in 2009-10, the inflation-adjusted total in state and local funding would be around $7,209, still a higher value than Scott's last budget.

Our ruling

Scott's current budget does spend almost $200 less per student than Crist did in 2007, but that was before the recession really hit. Spending was less during the other three years of Crist's term — although still higher than some of Scott's years.

It's worth noting that Scott cut school funding when he came into office, but has gradually increased it to a level that's currently higher than what Crist signed off on during the Great Recession.

When you account for inflation, though, Crist's per-pupil spending outpaces Scott's for every year. We rate the statement Mostly True.

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