Hammered by his chief rival over cuts to school budgets, Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday made an election-year promise to boost money for public schools if he's re-elected.
Scott vowed to recommend a roughly $700 million increase to public schools for 2015 _ which would push the amount of money for each student to record levels and bring total state and local funding to just under $20 billion.
"We need to invest in education,'' said Scott during a campaign stop. "My mom told me when I was growing up the way out of poverty is to get a great education and then work your tail off. And that's what she taught me and I want to make sure this is a state where you can do that.''
But the timing of the announcement, which comes months before the governor is even required to submit recommendations to the Florida Legislature, drew fire from Democrats and the state's teacher union as a campaign ploy. State education officials haven't even drawn up their spending requests for next year.
"No right-minded parent or teacher in this state believes Rick Scott,'' said Brendan Gilfillan, a spokesman for former Gov. Charlie Crist.
Crist, who is seeking his old job back as a Democrat, last week traveled around the state in a school bus decrying the $1.3 billion in cuts that Scott approved in 2011.
Scott had actually recommended a higher level of cuts that year but his recommendations were scaled back by Republicans in the Legislature. After the backlash, Scott has since recommended school spending increases in his last three budgets. The Republican incumbent in 2013 also recommended setting aside extra money directly for teacher pay raises.
If he wins a second term, Scott pledges to increase per-student funding by 3.3 percent to $7,176 _ or a $50 increase over what it was during Crist's first year in office without adjusting for inflation.
Scott's office did not release a detailed breakdown of the proposal, but stated the governor could accomplish the increase because of continued growth in state tax collections. This year, Scott and the Legislature relied on increased property taxes to help pump up school funding.
When he campaigned for office back in 2010, Scott vowed to cut government spending as way to jumpstart the state's economy. He also pledged to sharply cut taxes.
Caught in a tight re-election, Scott has recently been unveiling proposals to increase spending in several areas including schools and the environment. He has defended the increases by noting that the state now has a budget surplus as the economy has recovered.
"We've cut taxes 40 times, we've cut regulation and when you do that and people move back to your state, your state revenues grow and you can invest,'' Scott said. "You can invest in transportation. You can invest in education. That's what we're doing.''