Gov. Rick Scott has changed his stance on education in a few ways this year:
- He met the teachers’ union president for dinner and promised ongoing meetings.
- He returned a billion dollars to education funding.
- He said education is his new priority, since it will ultimately lead to job growth.
Seth McKee, Associate Professor of Political Science at USF-St. Petersburg, says it’s all about the election.
“He’s not popular,” McKee said. “I’ve never seen him reach over the mid 40’s in a poll. He tends to hang out in the high 30’s in terms of public approval.”
Almost immediately during his first year in office, Scott found himself on the teachers’ bad side.
He wiped out $1.3 billion in state education funding, then came out strongly in favor of alternatives to traditional public schooling, like for-profit charter schools.
McKee says Scott had no choice but to make changes.
Reasons why Scott may already be looking ahead to his reelection campaign:
- Scott’s education commercial — “I think when you’re running ads about education and that you’re trying to improve it, clearly that looks like a campaign ad,” McKee said. “To me, that’s the best anecdotal evidence I’ve seen, just from the perspective of a voter, that he’s running for reelection.”
- Low approval ratings – “You’ve got to do something fantastic if that’s where you tend to sit as an approval rating to having any chance of winning reelection,” McKee said. Scott returned $1-billion to the education coffers and is promising $2-million for teacher training. He invited union leaders to the Governor’s Mansion and held listening sessions at public schools.
- Economic recovery – Scott’s focus has been on job creation, and he said Florida needs a strong education system to lure companies and grow high paying jobs. That in turn will help the economy, and McKee says any sign of economic improvement will benefit Scott’s reelection bid.
Megan Allen, Florida’s 2010 Teacher of the Year, is cautious about what’s behind the change in Scott.
“It’s hard to get inside anyone’s mind and understand the motivation behind doing something,” Allen said. “As an educator I’m behind any kind of collaboration, any kind of getting stakeholders involved. I just hope that it is truly purposeful and not just in name only.”
During a recent dinner between the Governor and the president of Florida’s largest teachers union, the Florida Education Association, President Andy Ford seemed pleased with the Governor. He said, “Unless you sit down and start talking, you have no chance of changing the world.”