Scott, Crist Trade Barbs Over Education Policies, Funding

Sep 19, 2014

Governor Rick Scott (L) and former Governor Charlie Crist (R)

Governor Rick Scott and his Democratic Challenger, Charlie Crist, are sparring over their education records. When it comes to how both the current and former governors have handled education policies, there’s more fiction than truth behind the narratives.

Let’s start with higher education. The Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the state’s public universities recently said it needs an extra $45 million  to cover financial aid for students who, otherwise would have qualified for the state’s Bright Futures Scholarship Program. Board member Dean Colson points out, that need is expected to grow as the academic qualifications for the award goes up.

“This is going to impact our graduation rates, retention rates, and debt-loads going forward. So I don’t think there’s anything more important for us to do in November than to try and figure this out," he said.

Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist immediately released a statement slamming Governor Rick Scott over the issue, but Bright Futures eligibility tightened under both men. Meanwhile, Scott has blasted Crist over tuition hikes, which amped up when Crist was in office. The hikes were part of an agreement between the state and the Florida Board of Governors to drop a lawsuit over who—the legislature or the board—had the authority to set tuition.

And then, there are the ads:

Crist is trying to paint Scott as being bad for education. But the Republican Party of Florida has fired back by turning Crist’s ad against him—and promoting Scott.  

Both candidates are pushing their education credentials as a way to woo voters. Education is either the first or second biggest budget item in the state—depending on the measure used. But Kathleen Oropeza, with the Group Fund Education Now, says Scott and Crist are being deliberately vague when it comes to saying exactly where they stand on certain education issues.

“I think voters are looking for people and candidates to just be real, and take ownership And say ‘I will do this, I won’t do this', and let it stand. I think we’ve all had enough of the vague assertions and drill into the facts of what these men support.”

Oropeza’s group is part of a funding lawsuit that started under Crist’s watch and has continued under the Scott administration. And she’s wary of the claims both men are making about their records. For example, Scott cut $1.3 billion out of education his first year in office. But in the last two years, he’s lobbied the legislature to put the dollars back in—and overall education funding is the highest it’s ever been. But there’s a caveat there too—because per-student spending is still short of 2007 levels, a time when Jeb Bush held the governor’s mansion.

Education funding has also risen and fallen according to the economy. In 2007 the state had plenty of cash because people were spending in an effort to rebuild from hurricanes. In 2009, a recession took hold—and funding started dropping. In short, Oropeza says, voters should be looking to the Florida legislature—which controls both the policy and the purse strings.

“It’s a struggle for the people of Florida to get strong representation and to get answers to what’s important like public education, when the House and Senate don’t work together. And they certainly don’t always work with the governor either.”

She says, if Scott or Crist want to convince voters how dedicated they are to funding education--they may want to fill in the blanks a bit more on their education platforms.

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