Governor Scott wants review of tests and standards

Published On: Aug 26 2014 07:27:38 AM EDT
Updated On: Aug 26 2014 07:28:34 AM EDT

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -

Florida Gov. Rick Scott will roll out a series of education proposals that touches on everything from high-stakes testing to the cost of college and represents a break from some of the signature moves put in place by former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Scott wants to create an independent committee to review the state's contentious school standards even though a year ago he called for public hearings that resulted in tweaks to the standards based primarily on Common Core. That new committee could come up with additional changes to the standards now in place in Florida's classrooms.

The Republican incumbent governor also says he will direct Education Commissioner Pam Stewart to do a "thorough and comprehensive investigation" of the use of standardized tests that were the centerpiece of the overhaul initiated when Bush was governor. Bush tied the state's A-to-F grading of schools, which includes sanctions and rewards, to how students performed on standardized tests.

Scott also will propose a higher education platform that maintains that if he wins re-election he would continue to keep tuition rates down and he will also find a way to drive down college textbooks costs. He also wants to force state universities to disclose more information about the cost of courses and fees.

"Everyone in Florida deserves to live the American dream - and that starts with a great education," said Scott in a statement about the platform. "We want to make sure that our students have every opportunity to succeed in the classroom and in their careers, and we want to make sure our teachers have every tool they need to make that possible."

Education, along with jobs and the economy, is quickly becoming a flashpoint in this year's governor's race where Scott remains essentially tied with chief Democratic rival Charlie Crist, who is favored in Tuesday's Democratic primary.

After getting hammered by Crist over school budget cuts he endorsed during his first year in office, Scott last week promised a $700 million increase to public schools for 2015. If legislators agree it would be a $50 increase in per-student funding over what it was during Crist's first year in office without adjusting for inflation.

The rest of Scott's platform also appears aimed at drawing a distinction between himself and Crist over Common Core even though the standards have the strong support of Bush, a popular GOP governor who already endorsed Scott. The standards have come under fire, especially from conservative activists, who contend they represent a federal takeover of education.

Earlier this month Crist said he supports Common Core and noting Bush's support said "this represents, I think, an issue where we can put politics aside and do what's right for our kids and have appropriate testing and not overtesting."

Last year Scott called for public hearings into the benchmark standards in writing, reading and math that were the result of an initiative sponsored by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. State education officials tweaked the standards, including adding a requirement for cursive writing. Then during the spring legislators adopted new laws that officially removed the words "Common Core" from state statutes. In response to fears from activists, the state also changed laws regarding textbook reviews and banned districts from collecting biometric data from students.

Scott has insisted this means Common Core is "out" of Florida schools but activists have refused to drop their campaign against the standards. Meanwhile, other Republican governors have pushed to jettison the standards in recent months and school board races and legislative races around the state have featured candidates announcing their opposition to Common Core. Amid this uproar the Scott campaign quietly dispatched a top aide this summer to explain to GOP groups what steps the state had taken. That, however, has also not quieted the criticism.

Democrats criticized Scott's latest proposal as an election-year gimmick.

"He'll flip-flop again on Jeb Bush's Common Core to pander to his Tea Party base. That's why Floridians just don't trust him, and that's why he's spent over a million dollars on polling to find out what to say," said Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant in a statement.

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