One of the most applause-grabbing lines Charlie Crist deployed in the rally announcing his candidacy for governor on Nov. 4, 2013, honed in on just one week in the life of his Republican rival.
"(Rick Scott is) a governor who cares so little about education that he didn’t even come to his own education summit," Crist said. "But he did take time to go to the tea party convention the same week."
The crowd of Democrats in St. Petersburg loved the line. But we wanted to know if it was accurate.
The event capped a heated summer for education in Florida, with the Board of Education deciding to pad school grades, opposition mounting against Common Core standards from across the political spectrum, and Education Commissioner Tony Bennett resigning amid accusations he helped shield a charter school led by a Republican donor from getting a "C" back in Indiana.
It was time to talk it out -- or to at least talk about something else. Scott asked then-interim Education Commissioner Pam Stewart to convene the summit at St. Petersburg College in Clearwater Aug. 26-28.
"Florida's education accountability system has become a national model, but we are at a critical point in our history," Scott said in a statement before the meeting.
Invitations went to three-dozen people with stakes in education, including three county teachers of the year, eight legislators, activists from Florida PTA and Florida Parents Against Common Core, Board of Education chairman Gary Chartrand, Florida Education Association president Andy Ford, Miami-Dade superintendent Alberto Carvalho, and Patricia Levesque, executive director of former Gov. Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future.
On the agenda: new Common Core standards, new tests that will come in place of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, school grades and teacher evaluations.
And yes, Scott was a no-show. His press office said that was intentional.
"Gov. Scott wanted the benefit of an honest discussion on school grades, state standards, standard assessments and teacher evaluations," Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said at the time. "The focus of the summit was to ensure that each Florida child is prepared to succeed."
Scott did send representatives, including Stewart, communications director Melissa Sellers, policy chief Chris Finkbeiner and members of his education policy team, deputy communications director Frank Collins told us.
So what was Scott up to that week? We compiled his activities based on his public schedule on the governor’s website and news stories. (We asked for a more complete account of his activities from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement but did not get it by our deadline.)
Monday, Aug. 26: Scott’s schedule included a meeting with Gray Swoope, CEO of Enterprise Florida, and time in his Capitol office. Meanwhile, the summit’s first day was mostly spent on introductions and background presentations, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Tuesday, Aug. 27: Another day in Tallahassee. Scott’s schedule contained several hours of "staff and call time," a meeting with agency heads, and a dinner with community leaders at the governor’s mansion.
Wednesday, Aug. 28: Scott met with Republican speaker-designate Steve Crisafulli in Cocoa, Fla. In Fort Myers, he pledged millions for a project aiming to improve natural water flow to part of the Everglades and limit water releases from Lake Okeechobee. Later, he marked the opening of the new headquarters for Univision and its new English-language network Fusion in Doral.
The summit wrapped early without him in Clearwater, with attendees calling for reforms to school grades and teacher evaluations.
Thursday, Aug. 29: The morning after the summit ended, Scott had a jobs announcement with Boeing in Virginia Gardens. What he did that night caused a stir: He met with state Sen. John Thrasher, Chartrand of the Board of Education and former Gov. Bush at an undisclosed location in Miami at suppertime. The news of his behind-the-scenes meeting with education power players irked parent activists, according to the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald.
"This is how education reform gets done in Florida," Rita Solnet, founder of the advocacy group Parents Across America, told the Times/Herald. "The summit was a façade. The real decisions have always been made by Jeb Bush."
Friday, Aug. 30: At a luxury hotel in Orlando, Scott spoke before a crowd of conservative activists with tea party leanings for 15 minutes at the two-day Americans for Prosperity Foundation "Defending the Dream" summit, about the state’s economic turnaround (and took too much credit for an expected tax revenue record, we determined).
Americans for Prosperity is a conservative political action committee founded by libertarian billionaires David and Charles Koch and widely seen as sharing the concerns of and organizing the grassroots tea party movement. Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which sponsored the event, is its less political brother, a 501(c)(3) that focuses on education. Both groups believe in free markets, low taxes and limited government.
Scott delegated oversight of the education summit to his education commissioner, and other members of his team also attended. Still, Crist is right on the facts: Scott steered clear of one summit that week and made a speech at another laced with politics and connections to the tea party movement.
We rate the statement True.