By Bill Cotterell
TALLAHASSEE (Reuters) - Governor Rick Scott, under intense criticism by his main opponent for cuts in school spending, on Thursday promised record spending on education next year if he wins a tough re-election campaign.
“My mom taught me that a good education was the way out of poverty and I want all Floridians to have the opportunity to receive a great education and have their shot at the American Dream,” Scott said in announcing his plan.
“By increasing per-pupil spending to historic levels next year, school districts will have more resources to provide Florida children the best education possible.”
Scott said he will budget more than $19.6 billion for education in 2015 legislative session, if he is in office. That is about $700 million more than this year’s spending, and would raise per-student spending to $7,176.
The governor’s office said such a funding level would be $232 per student more than this year’s state education funding and about $50 more than the old record, set in 2007-08 by the first budget of ex-Governor Charlie Crist, who is running against him.
Crist, a former Republican running as a Democrat, last week made a statewide tour in a yellow school bus to blast Scott for $1.3 billion in education spending cuts in 2011. Spending was increased in later legislative sessions but Crist has hammered his Republican successor with criticism that per-pupil expenditures remain lower than when he left office.
The Crist campaign issued a brief statement accusing Scott of using his office to make campaign promises, banking on a projected $1.1 billion increase in state revenues next year.
“No right-minded parent or teacher in this state believes Rick Scott – the same guy who cut K-12 education by $1.3 billion – cares about anything but holding on to power so he can keep giving away our tax dollars to corporations,” said Crist spokesman Brendan Gilfillan.
“In his taxpayer-funded campaign statement, he admits that Charlie Crist holds the record for per-student funding, almost $200 higher than what Rick Scott is spending, despite Scott collecting billions more in taxes.”
(Editing by David Adams and Eric Walsh)