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Two Govs, Very Different Political Stripes, Call for K-12 Cuts

Rick Scott is the new Republican governor of Florida, elected on the promise of creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs by cutting government waste and cutting taxes.

Andrew Cuomo is the newly elected Democratic governor New York, who campaigned on the pledge to get the state's budget books in order and rein in government spending.

You won't find them on the same side of many issues. But over the past week, the two state executives—the first a relative political novice, the second the son of a Democratic party icon—have both unveiled budgets that call for substantial cuts in school aid, cuts they argue their states can afford.

I've been writing about state elected officials who've been making the case this year that schools need to make do with less—or at least no more than what they've got now. Scott and Cuomo have made some of the clearest moves of any governors so far this year in pushing some K-12 spending into the path of the budget ax—rather than protecting it outright.

The Florida governor yesterday proposed a total budget of $65.8 billion, which would cut $4.6 billion from last year's spending plan, and reportedly chop 8,700 state jobs. Some of the savings will be poured into corporate tax and property tax breaks.

The pre-K through university budget reportedly would fall from $22.4 billion this year $19.1 billion; per-pupil K-12 spending would fall by $703, a 10 percent decrease. Scott also vows to save billions by making changes to state's public workers pensions system.

(I write "reportedly" because that's what I'm reading in news accounts. The website that was supposed to house the budget, letsgettowork.net, crashed, and still wasn't accessible this morning.)

[UPDATE: The links to the "letsgettowork" site finally appear to be working.]

In unveiling his state's budget in person, Scott chose an unusual setting: a church in Eustis, Fla., in what the Miami Herald as a raucous, "highly partisan tea party event."

"We will save money by streamlining state agencies and consolidating overlapping functions," Scott said. "State agencies are not permanent fiefdoms. They are simply a means to serve the interest of the taxpayers."

A couple Florida papers are noting that Scott pledged during his campaign to protect school spending, so we'll see how that discrepancy gets explained in the weeks ahead.

The chairman of the state's Democratic party, Rod Smith, said the budget would "continue the failed Republican policies of the past decade that have left the Sunshine State with one of the worst economies in the nation," and called it "a frontal assault on the quality of life of every Floridian."

[UPDATE (5:57 p.m.): Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon, one of the leaders of the Republican controlled-legislature, offered a measured response to the proposal:

"Governor Scott has proposed budget recommendations, which he believes reflect the principles he espoused on the campaign trail....The first and highest priorities of the Florida House are to cut government spending and not raise taxes. I am grateful that Governor Scott shares these goals."]

Cuomo, who is attempting to close a $10 billion state budget deficit, recently released a spending plan that will decrease overall state spending by 2.7 percent, to $132.9 billion, for fiscal year 2011-2012. It also cuts 7.3 percent from state spending on schools, from $20.9 billion to $19.4 billion—a major shift in a state where, as the Cuomo has noted, school aid was scheduled to grow at 13 percent next year.

The New York governor's budget calls for a "gap elimination adjustment" of $2.8 billion next year—a loss funding partly meant to reflect the $1.3 billion in federal stimulus aid. The cuts to low-income districts would be proportionately smaller than those to high-income systems.

As I noted in a story a few weeks ago, the governor's plan also seeks to create a pair of competitive programs, each worth $250 million, to reward districts for making academic and financial improvements.

Cuomo's budget would also introduce competitition into the process for districts seeking a portion of $2.66 billion in school-construction funds, according to a summary of his spending plan.

The governor said he wanted to close the state's budget shortfall without raising taxes or borrowing. At present, the state's problem is spending, he says, noting that it's growing at a rate that has outstripped tax receipts, personal income, and inflation.

"We cannot just keep throwing money at the problem," said Cuomo, in releasing his spending plan. "More funds does not mean better health care, or better schools, or better programs. The change must start with a look at the programs: Do they work for the patient, the student, the New Yorker."

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