In advance of the next legislative session, Florida Governor Rick Scott has outlined an education agenda that has already drawn praise from both lawmakers and state and district officials. Over the previous month, Scott has been on a listening tour around the state and has drawn most of his policy recommendations from things he learned along the way.
Unlike previous years, this year’s plan sticks mostly to the areas that have proven universally popular. The plan includes steps that the government can take to avoid further education funding cuts, a charter school expansion, a moratorium on new standardized tests that don’t conform to the Common Core Curriculum, and calls for debit cards to be issued to teachers so they may purchase classroom supplies — something that many have been paying for with their own money.
After the official announcement – which came just weeks before the November 6th election – the state’s top Democrat, Florida Democratic Party head Scott Arceneaux, paid Scott’s plan a “backhanded compliment,” saying that he hoped Scott was “sincere.” He added that this effort wouldn’t make up for Scott’s past record on education.
Arceneaux followed that comment with a litany of education spending reductions by Republican governors and the GOP-controlled Legislature. That five-year string ended this year when lawmakers approved Scott’s proposal for a $1 billion increase for public schools although that’s still well short of fully restoring prior cuts.
According to the Herald Tribune, Scott’s move to a more liberal spending policy might be related to his falling approval ratings in the second year of his governorship. He disputed this assertion, however, saying that like all his policy positions, the education plan is designed with the objective of improving Florida’s long-term economic health.
“The absolute top priority of our administration is to create jobs and educate our workers to fill those jobs,” Scott said in a statement.
Although Arceneaux’s response can be best described as tepid, others unequivocally praised Scott’s plan. Former Governor Jeb Bush and Foundation for Florida’s Future executive director Patricia Levesque said that by focusing on issues such as college readiness and further integrating technology into the classroom, Scott was steering the state on the right course to improved academic outcomes for Florida’s students.
Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association, applauded the governor’s proposals but endorsed his recommendation to lift a cap on charter schools with a caveat — as long decisions to create new charters are left to local school officials.
“An open-ended lifting of the cap may be more than we need,” Blanton said, adding that districts are having a hard time keeping up with the growth of charters.