Former Gov. Charlie Crist often tells voters that he saved thousands of teachers’ jobs when he accepted federal stimulus dollars during the recession.
But Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s political committee, Let’s Get to Work, slams Crist for the loss of thousands of teacher jobs in a TV ad. Here is part of the script:
"Governor Crist cut education by $300 million. Under Governor Crist, 3,000 teachers laid off," says the narrator, as text on the screen cites the Center for Economic and Policy Research. "Governor Crist allowed college tuition to go up 15 percent every year. Our schools and students paid the price."
Here, we will fact-check if 3,000 teachers were laid off under Crist and if he was to blame. The ad launched in the Orlando, Tampa and West Palm markets starting June 24. (We’ve already fact-checked claims about the 15 percent college tuition differential.)
Spoiler alert: State data shows the number of teachers statewide dropped between the 2007-08 and 2008-09 school years by a number slightly larger than what the ad reports. But determining how many were laid off is tricky, and if the Republicans want to blame Crist, then they should also blame the Republican-dominated Legislature that signed off on the cuts amid a recession.
How Florida cut education during the recession
In the years leading up to Charlie Crist winning the governor’s race in 2006, the Florida economy was booming, pushing up funding for education. The K-12 budget when Crist took office was nearly $18 billion, including state and local dollars.
But in 2007, Florida’s tax collections sagged as the economy crumbled. The Legislature held a special session in September to determine how to fill a $1.1 billion hole in a $71 billion state budget. Education and health care, two of the largest expenses ended up taking huge hits.
Crist promised if voters approved a property tax cut in January 2008, it wouldn’t diminish school funding. He proposed a budget plan that called for a $1 billion increase in funding.
But in 2008, the state continued to suffer from a recession that led to more cuts. Republican leaders rejected Crist’s call to expand Lottery games and a property tax hike to pay for schools.
"No Tax Increases," declared a sign on the House floor as lawmakers debated the final budget bill in 2008.
By the end of the session, lawmakers cut K-12 by more than $300 million. Democrats, the minority party in Tallahassee, and the teachers’ union opposed the cuts.
"We all want to do more," said Crist, a Republican at the time, at the end of the session. "You just do the best you can."
Amid shortfalls, the Legislature continued to slash the budget in 2009. But then the state got some help from the feds.
In 2009, Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the $787 billion federal stimulus bill that saved jobs for teachers and other government workers nationwide.
Crist proudly touts his support for the stimulus -- saying that he stopped "the layoffs of some 20,000 school teachers during the global economic meltdown."
Without stimulus dollars, there could have been massive teacher layoffs, though it’s difficult to pinpoint the precise number. State data indicated that about 19,000 full-time equivalent jobs for instructional personnel were saved by the stimulus. Crist was a big-time cheerleader for the stimulus (literally embracing President Barack Obama over it) but the main credit for passing it goes to Obama and Congress. We rated Crist’s claim that he stopped 20,000 teacher layoffs Half True.
Republicans cite report for teacher layoff numbers
The ad attacking Crist for 3,000 teacher layoffs relies on a September 2009 report by the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research that tallied jobs shed from state and local governments during the recession. The report includes a list that shows the lost teacher jobs in Florida added up to about 3,700.
Here’s the problem with the way the ad uses that report: it doesn’t explain that it was based on news articles about layoffs or potential layoffs.
The report explains that caveat clearly: "This list shows press accounts of government planned job cuts. In some cases, the cuts may not have actually been implemented because of subsequent budget adjustments. Also, the job losses may have been met through attrition rather than actual layoffs."
For example, one article cited in the report stated that Miami-Dade, the state’s largest district, "cut nearly 1,000 teaching positions." But the Miami Herald reported that many teachers were moved into other jobs, and a district spokesman told PolitiFact Florida that no teacher was laid off. Broward initially cut about 400 teachers, but rehired about 75 percent of them.
While Marion County announced it would cut about 500 workers, the stimulus "saved us from having to lay a single person off in 2008 or 2009," a school district spokesman told PolitiFact Florida.
Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties -- none of which were cited in the report -- didn’t lay off any teachers. (The report only cited about 15 percent of Florida’s school districts.)
State data doesn’t show reasons for teacher declines
School districts report to the state Department of Education the number of teachers they have each year.
That data showed 3,282 fewer teachers in the fall of 2008 compared to 2007 -- about a 2 percent decline. There was a smaller drop the next year.
It’s fair to assume that some of those declines were due to layoffs, but the districts don’t tell the state how many of the declines were due to layoffs or other reasons such as teachers who retired, quit or were fired.
"There were some layoffs during the steep downhill dive of the state economy, but there was a strong effort in school districts to avoid teacher layoffs," said Ruth Haseman Melton, director of government relations for the Florida School Boards Association.
In some districts that meant other support workers -- such as custodians or bus drivers -- absorbed the bulk of the layoffs, she said.
A TV ad by Scott’s political committee says that under Crist, 3,000 teachers were laid off.
The ad omits some key points. The number was derived from media reports about possible layoffs, not all were actual layoffs. Also, Crist accepted federal stimulus money that preserved thousands of teacher jobs. Finally, Crist was not solely responsible for teacher layoffs. Crist and the Republican-led Legislature signed off on budget cuts amid a national recession -- and no single politician is responsible for that economic meltdown.
Clearly, some teachers were laid off statewide, but the ad lacks evidence that it amounted to 3,000 positions.
We rate this claim Mostly False.