Gov. Rick Scott has unveiled his proposed budget for the next fiscal year. It’s $4.6 billion less than the current state budget, but education gets a big boost. Scott is seeking a $1 billion increase in education spending with a focus on grades K-12. “Despite tough economic times,” said Scott, “this investment will provide the third highest level of state funding ever into Florida’s 67 school districts at 9.5 billion.”
It’s an about-face for Scott, who proposed a 10 percent cut in education last year. Lawmakers ultimately gave him an 8 percent decrease. As Scott’s popularity ratings took a nosedive, he started looking at how education could play into his plan to create 700,000 jobs in the state over seven years. “After traveling the state, I’ve heard what Floridians have told me about education,” said Scott as he announced his budget proposal at the Capitol. “I will not sign a budget for the Legislature that does not significantly increase state funding for education.” Scott wouldn’t say what he considers “significant.”
Scott said he’s heard from Floridians over the last few months about their priorities. Their top two concerns are education and jobs, two things that he called inseparable. “Every person in our state should have the opportunity to receive a high quality, relevant education so that they have the skills and training they need to succeed,” he said. “We know that a highly skilled workforce is the foundation under which Florida can grow its economy in the 21st century and that with a highly skilled workforce other important things will follow.” Scott says those “important things” include a decrease in the Medicaid rolls and the prison population, and less reliance on other government assistance programs.
The governor is proposing a hike in spending of just over $100 per student. A big component of his statewide listening tour was teachers, who’ve been none too happy with Scott over changes in their tenure and retirement plans. As he laid out his budget proposal, which will include more layoffs of state workers, Scott said he was elected to make the tough choices. “I am absolutely committed to acting on what I have heard,” he said, “and prioritizing education funding in this budget.”