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Education spending main focus of gubernatorial campaign

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SARASOTA, Fla. -- A Quinnipiac poll released earlier this year found that 9 percent of Floridians believe education is the most important issue in this year’s election. And the candidates apparently agree, because they've been playing up the issue lately with dueling pronouncements calling for increased funding for Florida’s schools.

Governor Rick Scott and his opponent, former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, have both released campaign ads toting their education stance. Scott says if reelected he will budget more than $19.6 billion for education in the 2015 legislative session. That’s about $700 million more than this year's spending, and it would increase per-student spending to $7176, which is $50 dollars more than the pervious per-student spending record set in the 2007-2008 school year by then Gov. Crist.

Those in educations say the increase funding is needed, since their expenses have gone up in recent years while funding has lagged behind.

"The cost per pupil, of course, is increasing. Our fuel costs have gone up quite a bit, [and] our group insurance each year goes up," says Al Weidner, the CFO of the Sarasota School District. He says list of expenses go on include everything from required technological improvements to building maintenance. And despite the increase in expenses, funding for school has been decreased over the years.

"Where we are at is back to [the] 2007-2008 funding level, but the original appropriation that was in 2008 was actually greater than it was this year,” Weidner says. "We definitely need to have our funding increased."

Despite the campaign rhetoric, opponents of Gov. Scott point out that his most-recent position on education spending represents something of a flip-flop. In 2011, Scott proposed cutting $1.3 billion in education funding and supported a 13-percent increase in tuition -- both proposals that were later passed by the legislature and signed into law by the Governor. Scott also signed a controversial teacher performance pay plan into law, angering educators in the Sunshine state.

But for parents, the issue is bigger than politics.

"Some of that is just bologna, and they're just saying what they think you want to here,” says concerned parent Rose Zvonik. “I do think they have good intentions, I just really wish that once they get elected they actually do it."

It’s important to point out that the actual decisions on school funding are made by the legislature and not the governor, though governors do make a recommendation.

Expect to hear a lot more on this issue as the campaign gets fully underway after the Labor Day holiday.