When it comes to talking about education in Florida, Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Charlie Crist and their campaign allies may need to hit the books.
The election is still five months away, but already there has been a flurry of press releases, staged media events, and television ads where each side blames the other for everything from college tuition to education policy and education spending in the state. Crist, who is now a Democrat, is one of several candidates challenging the GOP incumbent but so far Republicans have largely targeted him.
The increased emphasis on education is an acknowledgement that the issue continues to resonate with voters. Even members of Scott's inner circle have long thought that his lackluster poll numbers track back to his decision to push cuts to school funding during his first year in office.
Unfortunately for voters, sometimes what the parties and campaigns have said recently is wrong, misleading or exaggerated.
For example The Republican Party of Florida on Tuesday issued a press release comparing Crist's record on education to Scott's. It faulted Crist for vetoing spending on education projects like pilot reading programs and teacher training.
But one of the vetoes cited by the party actually stopped a 5 percent tuition hike for community college students. And the 2009 vetoes didn't cut education spending. Instead Crist was blocking cuts proposed by the Legislature. State legislators held a special session that year to cut state spending because revenues were dropping that year.
"It was also very important to me that we preserve our investment in K-12 education by providing funds necessary to support Florida's classrooms and our teachers," Crist wrote back in 2009 when he announced he was blocking the cuts.
When asked about the release, GOP spokeswoman Susan Hepworth acknowledged it was a mistake and the party planned to correct it.
This week a campaign committee backing Scott's re-election launched a new television ad criticizing Crist for signing into law measures that allowed state universities to raise tuition up to 15 percent without legislative approval.
The ad, backed by a $2 million purchase, says "everyone knows" that college tuition costs too much except Crist. But the ad doesn't mention it was the GOP-controlled Legislature that pushed the tuition law and got Crist to go along with it.
Plus it was House Speaker Will Weatherford who just a year ago contended that college tuition in Florida was affordable. During a meeting before the state panel that oversees state universities Weatherford held up a iPhone and said that most college students in Florida were paying roughly the same amount for their phone bills as they were for college.
The exaggerations are coming from the Democrats as well.
Florida Democrats launched a hard-hitting web video this week that faulted Scott for approving $1.3 billion in cuts to schools back in 2011.
In a written statement Allison Tant, the chair of the Florida Democratic Party, said that "for three years, Floridians have witnessed the devastating effects Rick Scott has had on public education. Now, in addition to running for re-election, Rick Scott is trying to run from his record of slashing education funding while lining the pockets of special interests and top campaign contributors."
But Tant's statement ignores the fact that state legislators have boosted spending on public schools recently, including a decision to set aside nearly $500 million last year for teacher salary increases.
Kevin Cate, a spokesman for Crist, has also told reporters that Scott's "first budget cut education by $4.8 billion so he could give tax breaks to his corporate contributors."
Scott did recommend large cuts during his first year in office, but they were actually part of a two-year budget proposal that was not adopted by state legislators.