Education attacks have played a key role in governor’s race
Joshua Gillin
By Joshua Gillin August 19, 2014
Katie Sanders
By Katie Sanders August 19, 2014
Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman August 19, 2014

School was out for most students this summer, but education attacks in the race for governor never took a vacation. Education has been one of the most divisive topics in this year’s contest.

Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican Party of Florida have defended his record on education while bashing the record of Democratic frontrunner former Gov. Charlie Crist. And Crist and the Florida Democratic Party have unleashed their own attacks against Scott.

Most of the attacks and claims about education have related to funding -- and they have covered the gamut from preschool through college. Both Scott and Crist have tried to portray themselves as a friend to teachers, public school parents and penny-pinching college students.

They often correctly cite the numbers for education funding, but they omit relevant context, including a historic recession and the role of the Legislature or the federal government.

As Florida’s students head back to school this month, we thought it was a good time to review PolitiFact Florida’s fact-checks.

K-12 and college cuts

Crist lambasted Scott’s education funding record the day after he announced his campaign, speaking on MSNBC in an interview with Chuck Todd.

"First thing he does when he comes in, Chuck, is cut education by $1.3 billion," Crist said. "That’s an incredible decrease. Then in his second year, he decreases funding by $300 million to our state universities."

That $1.3 billion related to the K-12 budget. It included reductions in state and state-required local dollars, but the largest chunk was due to the expiration of the stimulus funds. (In fact, Scott initially proposed an even larger K-12 cut, but the GOP-led Legislature couldn’t swallow that.) The state also cut $300 million from universities during Scott’s second legislative session.

Much of K-12 education funding was restored, though it’s still below pre-recession levels. And the Legislature restored the cut to universities the next year. We rated Crist’s statement Mostly True.

Crist often says that per-pupil funding for K-12 students was higher under his watch. During a July interview with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board, Crist said that despite the state’s current surplus, Scott "still hasn’t matched what I did during the recession for per-pupil funding for kids. In fact, he’s about $200 less."

Scott’s current budget does spend almost $200 less per student than Crist did in 2007, but that was before the recession really hit. Scott’s spending is even less when adjusted for inflation. We rated Crist’s statement Mostly True.

While Crist boasts about per-pupil spending under his watch, Scott zeroes in on total K-12 spending.

"The $18.8 billion in funding for K-12 education funding is the highest in Florida history and includes a record $10.6 billion in state funds," Scott said in January when he unveiled his education budget proposal.

He’s correct that both the sheer dollar total and the state’s portion are larger than in past years -- while ignoring that per-pupil spending was higher under Crist. Also, factoring in inflation would make the total amount for 2007-08 larger than Scott’s current proposal. We rated Scott’s claim Half True.

Bright Futures and college tuition differential

Scott and Crist have also traded barbs about the costs of college.

"Charlie Crist allowed college tuition to increase up to 15 percent every year," said Scott’s political committee Let’s Get to Work in a statewide campaign ad in June.

That’s a reference to 2009, when the Legislature approved a plan that allowed the Board of Governors to raise undergraduate tuition rates past whatever the Legislature approved. As long as the total increase didn’t exceed 15 percent per year, the board was allowed to raise tuition until it reached the national average. Crist advocated for this plan and signed off on it. We rated Scott’s claim Mostly True. (This year, the Legislature under Scott largely scrapped the increases -- leaving them for only two universities and capping them at 6 percent.)

Crist leveled his own attacks about budget cuts to Bright Futures, the scholarship program funded by the Lottery designed to keep high-achieving students at Florida schools.

A Crist TV ad said Scott cut Bright Futures scholarships "in half." That might sound like Scott cut the dollar amount of the scholarships in half, but that’s not what happened. Instead, Scott and the Legislature tightened standards so that fewer scholarships were awarded.

While Crist said Scott was responsible, under Crist the Legislature also raised the standards to reduce the number of scholarships. Scott and the Legislature kept those and put in place more reductions. We rated Crist’s statement Half True.

Education and the recession

Crist was a proud supporter of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the $787 billion federal stimulus bill pushed by President Barack Obama and passed by Congress in 2009. That stimulus helped Florida save the jobs of public workers, including teachers.

During his announcement speech in St. Petersburg last year, Crist said, "I am proud of my record as the governor investing in public education, and stopping the layoffs of some 20,000 school teachers during the global economic meltdown."

In Florida, the stimulus dollars affected about 19,000 full-time equivalent jobs for instructional personnel, which included teachers as well as guidance counselors, librarians and audio-visual workers.

Without stimulus dollars, there could have been massive layoffs, though it’s difficult to pinpoint the precise number of teachers. While Crist was a huge stimulus fan, the real credit goes to Congress and Obama. We rated his claim Half True.

Meanwhile Scott’s campaign in a TV ad blamed Crist for "3,000 teachers laid off."

The number was derived from media reports about possible layoffs, not actual 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, but the ad didn’t prove the actual number and put too much blame on Crist. We rated this claim Mostly False.

Read more fact-checks about education from PolitiFact Florida. See any claims in the governor’s race we should fact-check? Emails us at [email protected] or tweet us #PolitiFactThis

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Education attacks have played a key role in governor’s race