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Scott promises election year education spending bump

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Published:   |   Updated: August 21, 2014 at 02:04 PM

Gov. Rick Scott has announced he’ll ask for an increase in education spending next year that, if approved by the Legislature, would take per-pupil spending to a record level in Florida.

“The overall growth of Florida’s economy has made it possible for us invest record amounts in education,” Scott said in a news release announcing the move.

But Scott’s likely Democratic opponent for re-election, former Gov. Charlie Crist, panned the announcement as a “desperate” and misleading election-year ploy.

Scott said he’ll ask the Legislature next spring, after the November election, to approve $19.6 billion in K-12 education spending, or an estimated $7,176 per student. That would be an increase of $700 million overall, or $232 per student, over this school year’s spending levels.

Without naming Crist, Scott acknowledges that per-student education spending, the most meaningful measure of school spending, reached its previous high of $7,126 in the 2007-08 school year while Crist was governor. Scott’s proposal would exceed that level by $50 per student.

The announcement comes five months earlier than Scott’s January roll out of his 2014-15 education funding recommendations.

Scott said the increased school spending is being made possible by increasing state revenues forecast in an Aug. 7 meeting of the state Revenue Estimating Conference, which he said projected growth of nearly $1.1 billion over the latest 2014-15 revised forecast.

Scott has taken credit for the economic improvements he said allow the increased spending.

“Because we were able to get Florida’s economy back on track, revenues are now projected to stay at a strong enough rate to support historic investments in education,” his news release said.

But Crist campaign spokesman Brendan Gilfillan said in a statement from his campaign that the per-pupil spending level Scott proposes is still lower than the previous record if inflation is taken into account.

“No right-minded parent or teacher in this state believes Rick Scott, the same guy who cut K-12 education by $1.3 billion, cares about anything but holding onto power so he can keep giving away our tax dollars to corporations,” he said.

“In his taxpayer-funded campaign statement, he admits that Charlie Crist holds the record for per student funding, almost $200 higher than what Rick Scott is spending despite Scott collecting billions more in taxes.”

Crist and Scott have battled back and forth on the subject of education spending, each claiming to have been more favorable to public schools.

When he took office in 2007, Crist oversaw an initial large increase in school funding, producing the record spending of 2007-08. But Crist and the state Legislature enacted major cuts in subsequent years as the national recession cut state government revenues.

When Scott took office in 2011, having run as a small-government, tea party champion, he initially proposed a massive, $3.3-billion cut in school spending; the Legislature enacted a smaller cut, about $1.3 billion. Scott and the Legislature have since restored those cuts.

A significant part of the increased spending this year, about $400 million, came not from state revenues but from an increase in the other major source of school funding in Florida, property taxes the state requires local districts to levy. Scott’s announcement didn’t say how much of his proposed increase would come from state general revenue and how much from property tax.

wmarch@tampatrib.com

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