NORTH LAUDERDALE, Fla.—Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott called Tuesday for expanded use of virtual education, charter schools and magnet schools, saying "the very notion of the traditional classroom must be challenged."
Announcing his education plan at the North Broward Academy of Excellence charter school, Scott emphasized school choice as a cornerstone of his proposal, along with performance-based pay for teachers and a full accounting of spending given to parents.
"Parents ought to have the right to choose the school that they want to send their children to," Scott said, appearing with his running mate, state Rep. Jennifer Carroll. "With more choice, everything will improve."
Scott said parents should have a menu of educational options for their children - home schooling, charter schools, private schools, magnet programs and traditional public schools. He repeatedly mentioned virtual schools, saying technology has moved education beyond bricks-and-mortar structures.
"Kids today have access to computers, they're using computers. Companies are using computers to teach people," he said. "If you look at how companies are training people differently, shouldn't our kids have that same benefit?"
The campaign of the Democratic candidate for governor, Alex Sink, pounced on Scott's plan, saying education funding would be raided by the Republican's proposal to cut property taxes that go directly into school coffers.
"Rick Scott's education 'plan' calls for deliberately ripping off $1.4 billion from local public schools and taking local control away from parents and teachers and hand it over to Tallahassee bureaucrats," Kyra Jennings, a spokeswoman for the Sink campaign, said in a statement. "Scott's so-called education plan is a fraud, just like his so-called economic plan, and just like Scott himself."
Scott insisted that assessment was false.
"We're not slashing the budget, our focus is to spend the dollars well. We're gonna drive down property tax rates but we're gonna do that as we figure out how to save money," he said. "We're gonna make sure the money is there for education."
Severe budget cuts around the state have narrowed elective and after-school offerings and in some districts resulted in layoffs.
Sink announced her education plan earlier this month, saying the state must revitalize its shrinking education budget and that Florida Lottery money must go to school spending instead of general revenues. Her plan called for strengthened pre-K programs, dropout prevention initiatives and performance-based compensation for teachers.
"Simply throwing more taxpayer dollars at an outdated system like my opponent wants to do is not enough," Scott's plan said.
Introducing himself to students at North Broward Academy, Scott explained his business background, which began with two doughnut shops in the Kansas City, Mo., area. That initial foray into business - which helped launch a career that earned him hundreds of millions of dollars - helped fuel many of the questions the candidate took from students.
"Are we gonna get any doughnuts?" one child asked.