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In the state of Florida, newly elected Republican Governor Rick Scott is proposing huge cuts to education spending in a state where teachers are already among the lowest paid in the country. Scott’s announcement was met with statewide protests as educators, parents, and students fear cutting education that drastically will mean big changes for an already floundering school system.
Scott is proposing a K-12 budget for the coming year that is $1.75 billion less than the current education budget. Nearly half of that reduction, according to Scott, is because the federal government won’t be sending the $873 million stimulus for education that it sent last year. Claiming austerity measures and the need to balance the budget, Scott urged GOP lawmakers, “don’t blink” when faced with stares from critics. However, Scott’s slashing of education will not benefit the state in any way. In his proposed budget, he will gash education funding by $1.75 billion and then give away nearly the same amount on corporate and property tax breaks. It is reverse Robin Hood. The money potentially saved by killing education would not close the state budget gap at all.
Under Scott’s proposed budget, teachers would receive a pay cut certainly. But, students would also be affected. Scott’s $16.5 billion K-12 budget proposal would cut per-student spending to $6,196, $703 less than this year’s $6,899. The governor’s budget also projects $209 million less from discretionary taxes that school boards are allowed to raise additionally. Overall, that has Scott’s plan delivering $867 million less in property taxes for education.
Some Florida residents accuse Scott of reneging on a campaign pledge to hold education harmless. “Every candidate who ran in this last election ran on a campaign saying, ‘I support education,’ ” said Palm Beach County schools lobbyist Vern Pickup-Crawford. “Nobody ran on a campaign saying, ‘Elect me. I’m going to cut schools 10 percent.’ Including the governor.”
Teachers resent that they are the new scapegoat. Roosevelt Middle School civics teacher Mike Dowling said he can weather a 5 percent salary reduction even though he, like other Palm Beach County teachers, hasn’t had a pay raise in three years. But he worries about other teachers who are trying to survive on a tight budget. “I don’t know that we can afford to make much less than we make,” Dowling said. “We’re talking about teachers not being able to pay the light bill, the phone bill. It scares me that Gov. Scott is trying to balance the budget and give tax breaks to wealthy people on the backs of the teachers.” Dowling also said he’s concerned that respect for teachers is at an all-time low since he became an educator 18 years ago. “When did teachers become the enemy?” he asked. “We are the people that you trust your children’s future to. Society trusts me with their most precious resource, their children. And I’m wondering what we value.”