Gov. Rick Scott met with elementary school teachers and parents Monday as part of a listening tour that could be as much an opportunity to hear ideas for future school policies as it is to repair his image on education as he heads toward a re-election campaign.
Scott and the Republican Party of Florida have aggressively tried to promote his education policy after a first year in office in which education spending was cut by more than $1 billion. The party has paid for ads with Scott talking about his second year in office in which $1 billion was added to education and how he wants to change student testing.
Now he's going to spend the week talking with teachers and parents, starting at Jacksonville's Pinedale Elementary School. Music teacher Gregg Gafford thinks he knows why.
"Publicity," he said. "He's trying to redefine himself on education because we were all displeased with the first year."
In one of the Republican Party ads, Scott says that there should be "no more teaching to the test."
Scott, a former hospital chain CEO who had never previously held elected office, wouldn't allow reporters in the meetings to hear what ideas were discussed.
"I will continue to listen and see what the right program is. Here's what we all know: measurement works," Scott told reporters afterward. "Now, measurement's got to be fair, it's got to make sense. If we're going to measure something, we can't just be teaching to a test."
After the meeting, guidance counselor Collondra Reese said she didn't feel any better about Scott's education policy.
"Everything was approached from a business point of view," she said. "I can't say that it made me more secure about public education."
At least one parent felt better after meeting with Scott. Felicia Barnes, whose 6-year-old Trey is in a first-grade special education class, said she was concerned after Scott's first year when school money was cut. But she said he seemed sincere in wanting to help.
"By his response from some of our questions, it's like it's the first time he's heard these things, so I'm willing to think that he's going to address these concerns," she said.
Scott's approval rating plummeted after he took office and he has struggled to improve them. Also in his first year, he signed a bill that his predecessor, Charlie Crist, vetoed that creates a merit pay system for teachers while stripping new teachers of tenure. The teachers union strongly opposed it.
"Parents and teachers have made it very clear that they are much opposed to the direction the governor and the Republican Legislature have been going," said Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich, who has already announced she'll try to challenge Scott in 2014.