Gov. Rick Scott is calling for a $1.2 billion increase in the K-12 education budget, but the proposal is being met with skepticism from Democrats and legislative leaders.
Scott made his remarks before a room full of reporters Wednesday, ahead of his planned budget proposal rollout. The governor wants to boost the state’s K-12 education spending by about $400 per student. Included in the billion dollar proposed increase is the $480 million Scott previously announced he wants to fund $2500 dollar pay raises for full-time Florida teachers.
“I support students, I support teachers. Just like I had the opportunity growing up, I had the opportunity to go to a good school to get a great education I could get a great job. They’re clearly connected," Scott said to a room full of reporters at the Capitol.
Enrollment in the state’s public schools is expected to increase next year by around 30,000 students, and Scott wouldn’t say whether funding for those extra students is included in his $1.2 billion proposal or if they would require additional funds.
Not everyone is impressed with the Governor’s plans. Senate Minority leader Chris Smith says while he is encouraged by Scott’s efforts, the Governor’s planned teacher pay raises and more money for education amount to an admission that Scott’s earlier policies, such as cutting a billion dollars from public education and mandating teachers and other state workers contribute to their pensions, were wrong:
“It’s great to do it, and trust me, I wish it were more. But because he’s done things in the past to them, it’s not really putting them ahead. It’s bringing them to possibly, where they were when he came into office. And to have this sudden epiphany, to me, reeks of election year’s coming," Smith said.
And the legislature’s top leaders, House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz, say while they applaud the Governor for his efforts, they are cautious about making guarantees. Weatherford says the state doesn’t have an extra $1.2 billion in surplus, and that in order to get to that number there will have to be cuts in other areas:
“But we’re going to take his budget seriously. We’re going to look at it critically. We all want to pay teachers more. We all want to fund education better than we have over the past couple of years. We do have more revenue, But let me be clear. Our budget surplus is breathing room. It’s not enough room to put your feet up on the couch.”
And Senate President Don Gaetz warns that any extra money lawmakers may think they have for the upcoming year, could disappear quickly if Congress can’t reach a deal on across-the-board federal budget cuts slated to go into effect in the next few months:
“If that happens, God forbid, if Congress and the President can’t get together and o the right thing, then Florida’s face could be forced down into a pool of red ink, and the money that people have already mentally spend about 32 times, will disappear in an instant," Gaetz said.
Scott’s education funding proposal would increase the individual student spending to about $6,800 per student, the same level it was during the 2006-07 school year, according to the Florida Department of Education. The state’s peak education funding came in 2007-08, at about $7,100 per student. The Governor will begin rolling out the details of his budget Thursday.
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