TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Gov. Rick Scott's education agenda for next year's legislative session drew praise Thursday from state and local school officials, the Florida PTA, business interests and fellow Republicans, as well as a backhanded compliment from a top Democrat.
Scott formally rolled out the recommendations at an education summit in Fort Myers although most had previously been disclosed. The proposals are the result of a statewide educational listening tour Scott recently conducted.
They include proposals to avoid additional spending cuts, reduce regulations that take away classroom time and expand charter schools. Scott also wants to stop introducing new tests unless they support planned common core standards and provide debit cards for teachers to purchase classroom supplies that many now are buying out of their own pockets.
"While we hope that Scott's plan - introduced just 12 days before the election - is sincere, it does not erase the Republican's long record of hurting our parents, teachers and students," Florida Democratic Party executive director Scott Arceneaux said in a statement.
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.
Scott, whose poll numbers continue to lag, shifted his focus from cutting taxes, state spending and regulations to boosting education in his second year although he said that's also part of his overarching theme of job creation.
"The absolute top priority of our administration is to create jobs and educate our workers to fill those jobs," Scott said in a statement.
After announcing the education proposals, Scott canceled the rest of his schedule to be with his seriously ill mother, Esther Scott, in Kansas City, Mo.
Former Gov. Jeb Bush issued a joint statement with Patricia Levesque, executive director of Bush's Foundation For Florida's Future, which pushes his education policies. They lauded Scott for emphasizing college readiness.
"Investing in education, transitioning to more digital content, and preparing students, teachers and parents for Common Core State Standards are critical to effectively equipping today's students for the jobs of tomorrow," they said.
Florida is one of 45 states and the District of Columbia planning to replace their own standards with the common criteria in the near future. Therefore, schools shouldn't implement any new testing unless it's related to the common standards, Scott said.
"It is imperative that we give teachers time to transition," Scott said. "Getting this transition right is critical."
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.
Scott's proposal to let districts open their own charter schools to try out innovative approaches toward curriculum, instructional strategies and educational focus originated with the districts, Blanton said. Charters, which receive taxpayer funding, ordinarily are operated by private or government organizations other than school districts.
Blanton said the proposal is a form of home rule because it would let the new schools operate under charter regulations less restrictive than those for regular public schools. He also was pleased with Scott's recommendation to cut public school regulations as well.
Scott has suggested the teacher debit cards for school supplies be funded at least in part through donations from businesses.
Florida Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Edie Ousley called that a good idea.
"We certainly believe teachers shouldn't have to dig into their own pockets," Ousley said. "Businesses have been contributing to education and will continue to do that in the future."
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