Many leaders of Florida’s Teachers Union have made it clear that they find Governor Charlie Crist, now seeking a return to the office he quit four years ago an acceptable choice. While it is entirely possible Crist’s views on education have evolved swiftly over the past few years, his record is very poor especially when it comes to the issue of school “choice.” But Crist’s record is poor on this issue from the perspective of any progressive and just two weeks ago, prominent school “choice” backer Jon East articulated a belief that Crist would continue to support their cause.
East’s thinking is likely wishful. Crist has indicated early on in his Democratic gubernatorial campaign that he is willing to move to where he feels the party and the largest advocacy groups and unions that influence the nominating process are policy wise. This would mean a strong shift to the “anti” position on school “choice” legislation.
Many education advocates feel Crist has evolved on his positions related to school “choice” and could be a safe Governor. However, some still feel he has to show a sincere commitment to public schools given his frequent and positive references even since leaving the Republican Party to Jeb Bush.
After all, it was just last year at the Democratic Convention in Charlotte when Crist referred to himself as a Jeb Bush Republican. Bush is the figure in the state and perhaps the nation most closely associated in public with the voucher and charter school movement.
Some selected highlights of Crist’s record on school “choice” initiatives from the past are listed below:
Charlie Crist Signed Rubio-Pushed Expansion of Corporate Tax Backed Voucher Program. In 2008, Governor Crist signed a bill that implemented one of Marco Rubio’s “100 Ideas for Florida’s Future,” (also pushed by Jeb Bush) by increasing corporate tax credits for private school vouchers by $30 million ($88 million to $118 million). On May 2, 2008 the Associated Press reported that, “The voucher bill would let an additional 6,000 students go to private school at public expense.” The AFL-CIO said removing the funds from public schools was “deplorable.” (Florida House, HB 653, Vote 1180, 5/2/2008; Marco Rubio, “100 Ideas for Florida’s Future,” 2007; Associated Press, 5/2/2008; Florida AFL-CIO 2008 Legislative Session Final Update)
As Attorney General, Crist Ruled That Charter Schools Be Funded The Same As Public Schools. In December 2004 the Sun-Sentinel reported that AG Charlie Crist, ruled that school boards must pay the same to educate charter school students as they do their other students – in particular, Broward County School District must finance the city’s charter schools equally. According to the article, Pembroke Pines officials claimed it is was not receiving enough money from the school district to operate seven free charter schools that serve about 5,000 students, and asked the state to rectify the problem. (Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, 12/24/2004)
Crist Supported School Vouchers. According to a 1994 St. Petersburg Times article, Crist said he supported some form of school vouchers to add competition to the public education system. (St. Petersburg Times, 10/13/1994)
Crist Favored Charter Schools. According to a 1998 Tampa Tribune story, Crist favored charter schools, and said in a speech at the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club that he did not think public school systems are under-funded. (Tampa Tribune, 6/10/1998)
St. Pete Times: Crist Created Faulty School Voucher System as Education Commissioner. In October 2001, the St. Petersburg Times slammed Crist and Senate President John McKay (R-Bradenton), blaming them for creating a school voucher system that “simply hands out tax money for the asking.” (St. Petersburg Times, 10/11/2001)
Crist “Wholeheartedly” Supported Gov. Bush Education Policies. In January 2000 the St. Petersburg Times reported that, Charlie Crist ‘wholeheartedly” supported the education policies of Governor Jeb Bush. According to Times, “Crist said he wholeheartedly supports those policies, including grading schools on assorted performance criteria and giving bonuses to high-performing schools and offering tuition vouchers for students in the worst-performing schools. Crist said he would also work to reduce class sizes and improve pay for teachers.” (St. Petersburg Times, 1/26/2000)