Gov. Rick Scott speaks during the Associated Press legislative planning session in Tallahassee on Oct. 14, 2015. (AP photo) Gov. Rick Scott speaks during the Associated Press legislative planning session in Tallahassee on Oct. 14, 2015. (AP photo)

Gov. Rick Scott speaks during the Associated Press legislative planning session in Tallahassee on Oct. 14, 2015. (AP photo)

Joshua Gillin
By Joshua Gillin October 15, 2015

Rick Scott says K-12 education funding is highest in Florida's history

Amid his calls for legislators to cut taxes by hundreds of millions of dollars next year, Gov. Rick Scott bragged that Florida’s education system is getting record funding on his watch.

During a news conference on Oct. 14, 2015, Scott called for tax cuts beyond the $400 million the Legislature approved earlier in the year. Scott had promised to cut taxes by $1 billion over two years, but lawmakers are already signaling that may not be possible.

When a reporter asked Scott how he can push tax cuts and still guarantee public schools the capital funding they need, Scott repeated a boast he’s made before: "We have the highest funding in (the) K-12 system in the history of the state."

Scott and Florida Republicans have been making the claim since his 2014 re-election campaign that school funding has been at historic levels, but it’s simply not a complete picture of the education budget. (Scott intends to release his full budget proposal in December.) We decided it was time to revisit this particular claim.

Total vs. per-pupil vs. inflation

The education budget has been a prickly issue for Scott since he recommended major cuts in his first year in office. State tax revenues have recovered with the end of the recession, and Scott has pushed to move the budget back up each year since, which has led to his current claim.

While Scott and former Gov. Charlie Crist squabbled during the 2014 gubernatorial campaign over who held the spending record, we noted they both could stake a claim: Scott had the largest budget in total dollars, while Crist spent the most per student back in 2007-08.

With Scott well into his second term, the same is still true today.

After winning re-election, Scott wanted to bump up spending in his January 2015 budget proposal, to $19.75 billion total and $7,176 per pupil. That would have been about $850,000 higher than the previous year’s budget, and $50 higher per student than the record of $7,126 under Crist.

But the Legislature has the final say, and faced a budget deadlock over several issues, including a debate about potentially expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. After a special session in the summer to hammer out a budget, the Legislature didn’t give Scott the amount he wanted.

We checked the latest calculations for the Florida Education Finance Program, a pot of state and local money for schools that is adjusted periodically throughout the year to factor in tax receipts and enrollment. We found that for the 2015-16 school year, the K-12 system is getting a total budget of about $19.7 billion, or about $7,105 per student .

Let’s take a look at the past few years to get a better idea of how much money has been going to education spending.

Fiscal year (governor)

Total K-12 budget

Per pupil spending

K-12 enrollment

2007-08 (Crist)

$18.7 billion

$7,126

2.63 million

2008-09 (Crist)

$17.9 billion

$6,846

2.62 million

2009-10 (Crist)*

$18 billion

$6,846

2.63 million

2010-11 (Crist)*

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$18.2 billion

$6,897

2.64 million

2011-12 (Scott)

$16.6 billion

$6,217

2.67 million

2012-13 (Scott)

$17.2 billion

$6,376

2.70 million

2013-14 (Scott)

$18.3 billion

$6,769

2.705 million

2014-15 (Scott)

$18.9 billion

$6,915

2.74 million

2015-16 (Scott)

$19.7 billion

$7,105

2.77 million

*Includes federal stimulus money

There are some details about the funding that we won’t explore in much detail. The two years marked with an asterisk were years when Florida used about $900 million each in federal stimulus money for the budget, for example. Also, the amount of property taxes collected through what is known as the Required Local Effort can change from year to year.

Scott's office said the budget is at its highest level ever in terms of total dollars. But you would expect it to be, considering the K-12 school system also has its highest enrollment ever. There are about 100,000 more students today than when Scott took office, and about 140,000 more than when Crist oversaw the highest per-pupil spending in 2007-08.

The money in today’s budget isn’t exceeding the record level in terms of sheer dollars per student, but that’s even less so when we factor for inflation.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index inflation calculator, which is somewhat imprecise but can give us broad insight on the subject, even Scott’s January 2015 request to best Crist’s spending by $50 per student lags far behind. Just to match 2007’s $7,126, per-pupil spending would have to be in the neighborhood of $8,190 today. Using this method, the current total budget would have to be in excess of $21.4 billion.

We’ve rated claims similar to this one Half True in the past, but it’s apparent that Scott’s claim is misleading. Any reasonable person would expect a growing education system to naturally have a larger budget after nearly a decade. In this case, the dollars simply don’t go as far as they once did.

Our ruling

Scott said, "We have the highest funding in (the) K-12 system in the history of the state."

That’s accurate in one sense, because the state’s total education budget is at an all-time high of $19.7 billion. But enrollment is also higher than in years past. Per-pupil spending is still below historic dollar totals and remains far below equitable levels when adjusted for inflation.

Education spending has essentially stood still over the last nine years. Scott’s claim obscures that.

The statement contains an element of truth, but ignores critical facts. We rate it Mostly False.

Our Sources

Gov. Rick Scott, Associated Press Legislative Planning Session, Oct. 14, 2015

PolitiFact Florida, "Rick Scott says his K-12 education budget proposal is highest in Florida's history," Jan. 29, 2014

PolitiFact Florida, "Rick Scott's student spending is 'about $200 less' than during recession, Charlie Crist says," July 18, 2014

PolitiFact Florida, "Does Rick Scott hold the record on education funding, as Republicans say?," Oct. 6, 2014

Tampa Bay Times, "Gov. Rick Scott proposes record high education spending in Florida," Jan. 12, 2015

PolitiFact Florida, "Rick Scott calls proposed per pupil spending 'historic'," March 3, 2015

PolitiFact Florida, "Revisiting the Legislature’s budget showdown," May 28, 2015

Tampa Bay Times, "Two months late, Florida lawmakers approve state budget," June 19, 2015

Tampa Bay Times Buzz blog, "Gov. Scott's jobs, tax cut plans face uphill climb in state Capitol," Oct. 14, 2015

Tampa Bay Times Buzz blog, "Gov. Rick Scott 'absolutely' confident lawmakers will support tax cut and jobs incentive push," Oct. 15, 2015

Florida Department of Education, "Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP) Calculations," accessed Oct. 14-15, 2015

Florida Department of Education, "2014-15 Funding for Florida School Districts Statistical Report," accessed Oct. 15, 2015

Interview with Cheryl Etters, Florida Department of Education spokeswoman, Oct. 14-15, 2015

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