Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who oversaw major cuts to school funding last year, is now asking state lawmakers to boost spending on education, though Democrats say his proposal doesn't stand up to scrutiny.
The first-term Republican, in his annual State of the State address, reiterated his call for increasing state spending on schools by $1 billion annually, a plan that would boost per-student funding by about 2 percent, to $6,372.
In a speech that was otherwise heavy on anti-tax and anti-government themes, Scott said he was proposing increased funding for schools in response to calls from state residents.
"I heard one thing very clearly, over and over," said Scott, according to his prepared remarks. "Floridians truly believe that support for education is the most significant thing we can do to ensure both short-term job growth and long-term economic prosperity for our state. And you know what? They are right."
Last year, the governor and the state's Republican majority in the legislature approved sweeping changes to the state's school systems, many of which angered teachers and other education groups. Those steps included new laws phasing out tenure and implementing merit pay for teachers and requiring them to pay more for pensions. The state's largest teachers' union has argued that those changes will make their jobs more difficult and less attractive to aspiring educators and take too much power from districts.
Scott praised the state's teachers in his speech, singling out a first-year teacher in the rural town of Immokalee, who was sitting in the legislative gallery, as an example of educators' commitment to their craft.
Florida Democrats greeted Scott's call for new education funding skeptically, saying he was proposing to raise funding for schools by gutting other government programs, particularly in health care. Those gains would not fill the hole left by earlier cuts, they argued.
Nan Rich, the Democratic minority leader in the state Senate, said Scott's budget created a "false choice, pitting our hospitals against our teachers." She said that Republican policies have had a severe toll on the government's—and schools'—ability to function because of so many public workers "on the front lines getting pink slips."
Photo: Florida Gov. Rick Scott delivers his State of the State on Jan. 10 during the first day of the Florida legislative session in Tallahassee, Fla. (Chris O'Meara/AP)