Three Democratic Orange County lawmakers joined with the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association Thursday to bash Republican Gov. Rick Scott‘s record on public education.
Outside the offices of the Orange County Public Schools headequarters in Orlando, State Sen. Victor Torres and state Reps. Carlos Guillermo Smith and Amy Mercado all went after the governor for education budget cuts he pushed through in the early years of his first term and consistent efforts throughout both terms to route more tax money into private charter schools.
There’s no immediate legislative effort the lawmakers might be addressing. However, Scott is in a tight battle with Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in the election challenge for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat this fall, and the trio of Orlando lawmakers stepped in as surrogates for Nelson’s campaign, and to throw fuel into the upcoming gubernatorial primary, where Torres and Mercado have endorsed Democrat Gwen Graham and Smith, Democrat Andrew Gillum.
A spokeswoman for Scott’s U.S. Senate campaign called the Democrats’ claims against Scott “ridiculous.”
The Democrats laid it on heavy.
But Torres said they also want to keep up constant pressure on public opinion, even several months away from the start of committee work for the next Legislative Session. “We have to keep sending the message to everybody,” he said.
“Rick Scott has imposed immense hardships on our public schools for the past eight years,” Torres declared. “Republican budget deals under Rick Scott were giveaways to charter schools at the expense of the public school system. Thanks to Rick Scott and Republican legislators, public schools have had to contend with underfunding year after year. We need a change, and Rick Scott is not the answer.”
Of the three Democratic lawmakers, only Smith faces a challenger in this year’s elections, with a late-entry, well-financed campaign by Republican Ben Griffin. Mercado had a Republican challenger, but she dropped out last week, and Orange County Republicans are seeking a replacement.
Griffin commented on the press conference in a written statement by declaring “it’s a shame that my opponent uses his time for a photo op with the local union that advocate for policies that keep low income children in failing schools during an election.”
“Rick Scott has been horrible for our public school system. In his first year as governor, Scott rolled out a proposal that would’ve cut our schools by billions of dollars. Even Republicans in the legislature thought Rick Scott’s public education cuts were too cruel to our public schools,” Smith said.
“Florida under Scott has systematically moved us towards a universal voucher system, and now, we are spending huge amounts of taxpayer money to move resources into private schools. Why, because Rick Scott wants give even more money to people like Betsy DeVos who continue to profit off our education system,” he said, referencing the controversial U.S. Education Secretary who has ties to Orlando. “And our teachers and public school students are paying the price.”
“As a proud mom of six children, I am disgusted by Rick Scott’s neglect towards our public schools,” Mercado said. “Rick Scott and the Republican-led legislature continue to attack and abuse our state education system. They inappropriately fund public schools while openly funneling money to private corporations under the guise of school choice. We must stop this insanity.”
They were joined by Orange County Classroom Teachers Association President Wendy Doromal.
“Rick Scott deserves an F on education issues,” she said. “Since he was elected, Rick Scott has headed a campaign to dismantle Florida’s public education system brick by brick. He has done incredible harm to students, teachers, and public education as a whole. Florida has one of the highest rates of teacher turnover in the nation. We cannot recruit or retain enough qualified teachers under these conditions. Under Scott, Florida’s public schools are underfunded, over regulated, and set up for failure.”
“These claims are ridiculous. Clearly, Democrats have no choice but to continue to use misleading and negative attacks in order to hide the fact that career politician Bill Nelson has no accomplishments to run on,” said Scott’s campaign spokeswoman Lauren Schenone.
“Over the past seven and a half years, Gov. Scott has fought to ensure every child has the opportunity to succeed and receive a world-class education. That’s why he worked to invest record amounts in K-12 education, secure the first statewide teacher pay raise in state history, and expand school choice so students and parents have more options to choose what works best for them,” she added.
Griffin’s statement about Smith continued: If he actually did his homework, he’d highlight Florida’s graduation rate hitting a 14 year high under the Republican majority legislature, including 84.7% in Orange County. Unlike my opponent, I am spending my time going door to door talking to voters who believe that parents, not politicians, should be able to decide which school best meets their child’s needs, regardless of their address or income.”