Half-True
Republican Party of Florida
Under Rick Scott, there has been a "historic $20 billion in funds for education."

Republican Party of Florida on Tuesday, September 30th, 2014 in a TV ad

Does Rick Scott hold the record on education funding, as Republicans say?

The Republican Party of Florida's ad features Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera praising Gov. Rick Scott's record on education funding.

Florida Republicans have tapped Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami to speak directly to Hispanic voters in a recent Spanish language TV ad.

The ad touts Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s accomplishments. Here is part of the English translation:

"He cut taxes 40 times, reformed Medicaid for the neediest and secured unprecedented funding for education."

The text on the screen states, "Historic $20 billion in funds for education."

We’ve already rated Half True the claim that Scott cut taxes 40 times for families; the statement about reforming Medicaid refers to the state getting a federal waiver to expand privatization in an attempt to save money, but this leaves out that the Legislature has rejected expanding Medicaid for poor adults.

But what about the claim on education spending? It’s one of many in a tug-of-war between Scott and his Democratic challenger, former Gov. Charlie Crist. Both candidates have claimed that they hold the state record for most K-12 funding -- and, oddly enough, they both have plausible cases to make. Scott holds the record for total dollars spent, while Crist spent the most on record per pupil.

In the recent Spanish-language ad, Scott’s claim about education spending is partially accurate but contains some key omissions. Here’s the rundown.

The Republicans’ ad doesn’t specify what type of education funding it is referring to or which year. The ad provides a hint that it is about young children because it shows a video of two young girls wearing shirts that say "intergenerational child care." So we’ll look at K-12 spending.

We asked officials at the Florida Department of Education for documentation showing the most recent figure for total K-12 funding for 2014-15.

A September 2014 slideshow by the education department shows that total funding for the Florida Education Finance Program -- the main pot of money for K-12 -- was about $18.9 billion, including both state and local dollars. (The state dictates the local government contribution amount, so we have no quarrel with the Republicans adding the state and local dollar amounts together.) The state also receives about $1.5 billion in federal grants for K-12, so if we add up state, local and federal dollars, we end up at around $20.4 billion.

So it’s reasonable for the Republicans to cite that $20 billion figure -- though it’s worth remembering that they are zeroing in on one year of Scott’s tenure while omitting any discussion of his other three budgets, including in 2011, when he signed off on a cut of $1.3 billion. After facing criticism for that cut, Scott has since supported increases in K-12 spending.

As for the "historic" label, that depends on how you slice the numbers.

The supporting information released by the GOP cites a June 2014 Tampa Bay Times story about Scott signing a $77 billion state budget, including money for K-12.

"The bottom-line number for K-12 schools of $20.7 billion is the largest in history," the article stated. However, the article, unlike the ad, went on to say that this amount fell short of the per-pupil spending record under Crist. News articles in other publications also cited the same figure.

Similarly, when Scott released his budget proposal in January 2014, it included $18.8 billion for K-12 education. While he touted that as that the "highest in Florida history," we rated that claim Half True because he focused on total spending while ignoring the fact that per-pupil spending was higher under Crist.

Per-pupil spending is a crucial measurement because it shows how much is spent on each student at a time when the number of students is rising. So how do those numbers look?

We have rated Mostly True a Crist claim that Scott’s per-pupil education spending is "about $200 less" than the $7,126 his own administration spent per pupil during the recession. We found that this number is correct, though the record refers to the budget Crist signed in 2007, before the recession hit.

In August 2014, Scott proposed a budget for next year that would include $7,176 in per-pupil spending to match Crist’s record. But if Scott wins and gets his wish on that dollar figure, Crist would still hold the record if you factor in inflation.

It’s also important to point out that overall student enrollment has grown during Scott’s tenure, so it’s not a surprise that the total budget would grow, too. The schools’ full-time-equivalent student body grew by about 68,000 between 2011-12 and 2014-15.

Our ruling

The Republican Party’s ad says that under Rick Scott, Florida has had a "historic $20 billion in funds for education."

The statement is accurate if we look at total K-12 spending for Scott’s fourth year in office. But this claim leaves out some important context -- that Crist still holds the per-pupil record and that Scott significantly reduced K-12 spending during his first year. We rate the statement in the ad Half True.

Editor's note: This item has been updated to clarify that in August 2014 Scott proposed a budget of $7,176 in per-pupil spending.