By David R. Ellis
Florida voters are being treated to a competitive gubernatorial race featuring our two most recent governors running against each other for a second term.
Rick Scott, the current Republican governor, is running for re-election in November against Charlie Crist, his predecessor. And here’s the twist: Crist was a Republican when he was governor, but now he has changed parties and is running as a Democrat. In between, he ran unsuccessfully for the Senate as an independent after losing a primary to the current Republican senator, Marco Rubio, and now he has joined the Democratic Party.
How does the choice of governor for the next four years affect you as a student at St. Petersburg College and as a citizen of Florida and Pinellas County? The candidates have developed extensive policies in the field of education, and there are real differences that can affect you and your future plans.
Crist used to be a Republican, but now that he has switched parties, his policies have evolved. His views are closer to those of the teachers unions, and he criticizes Scott for not supporting teachers, cutting the state’s education budget, and downplaying the importance of education. In his official website, Crist notes that Scott has appointed four education commissioners in less than four years in office, and says that Scott “cares so little about teachers that he didn’t even attend his own Education Summit.”
Crist says he will fully restore Scott’s cuts to education, and will ensure that corporations receive the same tax breaks for investing in Florida’s public schools as private schools. He wants to train high school students to enter critical vocational trades. He also wants to help students prepare for high tech jobs by allowing them to receive foreign language credit for studying subjects like computer programming and coding.
Scott has countered Crist’s criticisms by saying he wants to make college more affordable for Florida students. He says he has reversed Crist’s fifteen percent tuition increase, reduced the cost of Florida Prepaid savings plans, provided in-state tuition for veterans, and encouraged Florida state colleges to offer $10,000 degrees in high-demand job fields.
Scott says he has secured millions in teacher pay raises and funding to help them buy supplies for their classrooms. He says he will propose a budget with the highest per-pupil funding for K-12 education in Florida history.
By contrast, the total state funding for K-12 education decreased during Crist‘s term as governor. However, Crist left office in the middle of a severe recession that seriously reduced state revenues and funding of most programs across the state. That makes it difficult to compare the candidates’ budgets during their terms in office.
The two candidates have sparred over the funding of education at every level, including higher education. They have accused each other of cutting funding for Bright Futures college scholarships. That program is designed to encourage high-achieving students to attend Florida colleges and universities.
While Scott has been governor, the program’s budget and number of students receiving grants have dropped, and students have gotten less than when Crist was in office. However, the Legislature tightened eligibility requirements under both governors, reducing the number of students who receive awards. Both Crist and Scott went along with the Legislature so it is not clear whether there would be any difference in the program no matter who wins the election.
One of Crist’s supporters is Pinellas County School Board Vice Chair Linda Lerner, a school board member for over two decades. She said that Crist understands the public education system better that Scott, and is less wedded to a particular ideology.
Lerner said that “Scott just twists things” about the adoption of the Common Core curriculum for students in primary and secondary schools by claiming that the standards are part of a federal takeover of education. She said the federal government was not involved in the development of the standards. Rather, they were created under the sponsorship of state bodies including the bipartisan National Governors Association.
Common Core’s purpose is to establish consistent educational standards across the states and ensure that high school students are prepared for college and the workforce. The curriculum has been adopted in over 40 states, including Florida. However, when conservative opposed it, Scott ordered the state to make changes and rename it the Florida Standards. Crist has supported the Common Core standards and would encourage their use if he were elected.
State Representative Larry Ahern is a Republican from Seminole who serves on the Education Appropriations Committee in the state legislature. He said that Scott was right to make changes in the standards to correct their deficiencies. “Crist will politicize education policy” by favoring the positions of teachers unions, he said, “whether they benefit students or not.”
Ahern lauded Scott for supporting school choice initiatives such as school vouchers and charter schools to give minority students the opportunity to attend better schools. He said Scott has been very supportive of higher education, restoring budget cuts and rolling back college tuition increases.
There seem to be real differences in the two candidates’ positions on education policy, colored by their ideologies, political parties, and supporters. Scott stands at the right of the political spectrum and favors business interests and lower taxes, which reduces state funding across the board, including education. He also supports private initiatives like vouchers and charter schools. Crist has become more union-friendly and is less supportive of privatizing traditional government functions such as the public schools.
As the campaign winds down, you can be sure that education policy will be a heated topic of discussion between the candidates.
Photograph by DonkeyHotey (Flickr Creative Commons)