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PolitiFact FL Pierces Claim State Has Record Level Of Education Funding

Gov. Rick Scott

Is Florida really going through its sixth straight year of record education funding, as Gov. Rick Scott claims? And we also look into how an attack ad is crafted, with Allison Graves of PolitiFact Florida.

As Gov. Scott gears up for a probable run for the U.S. Senate, he's crowing about his education bonafides.

In a letter he recently wrote Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, Scott bragged that his eighth and final state budget continues a rising trend of paying up for education.

"For the sixth straight year, we have secured record funding for K-12 and state universities to ensure every student has the opportunity to receive a world-class education in Florida," Scott wrote in a letter on March 16.

Is that really true? Here's PolitiFact Florida's ruling:

The main source of money for K-12 education is the Florida Education Finance Program, or FEFP. By law, it’s a combination of state and local funding that is sometimes tweaked based on tax receipts and enrollment counts.
Scott spokeswoman Kerri Wyland said the "record funding" for K-12 education is only in reference to the state contribution, not the total funds that factor in local contributions. But that was not clear from Scott’s comment.
For the 2018-19 school year, the K-12 total budget is about $21.1 billion, or about $7,408 per student. (The state’s share is a little more than half of the total at $11.9 billion.)
That’s the highest it’s ever been, and a jump of almost $500 million from the previous year.
School officials around the state have not been pleased, however, because their hands are tied about how to spend most of it.  
About $400 million of the increase is dedicated for school safety and mental health initiatives. "The Legislature is touting ‘record’ funding for schools by counting money slated for safety and mental health, not for education," said superintendents from some of Florida’s largest school districts in a joint column for the Tampa Bay Times. "Their ‘record’ funding is all funneled into categorical funds and can only be used for certain purposes."
In sheer dollars, Scott’s claim about K-12 schools is accurate.  Overall, state and per-pupil funding has increased every year since fiscal year 2013-14 in K-12 schools.
Per-pupil spending is a crucial measure, because it shows how much is spent on each student. It would be expected, then, that overall spending would increase with the number of students. There are approximately 200,000 more K-12 students today then six years ago in fiscal year 2013-14.
Scott’s boast of record funding, however, does not hold up when adjusted for inflation.
Using the federal Consumer Price Index calculator, we found per-pupil spending is not as high as it was before the recession crippled state tax revenues.
K-12 per-pupil spending would have to be more than $8,726 in 2018-19 to match the 2007-08 level. Instead it is more than $1,000 short.
Scott has a point in terms of sheer dollars. However, Florida's K-12 education funding hasn’t kept up with pre-recession numbers. We don't have a complete view of state university spending, but it's likely per-pupil spending is roughly the same as pre-recession numbers. 
And the bulk of this year’s K-12 education budget increase is strictly for school safety and mental health, which won’t leave a lot of money left over for classroom needs.
We rate this Half True.

Also, we asked PolitiFact Florida about how some attack ads are crafted.

Congressman Ron DeSantis is one of the front-runners on the Republican field to succeed Rick Scott in the governor's mansion. So in anticipation of the upcoming primary, DeSantis and most of the other Republicans are veering to the right.

So there was a claim by an obscure right wing website that DeSantis had "voted in favor of food stamps for illegal immigrants." The website cited as its source another fringe right wing website.

Here's an excerpt from the PolitiFact Florida story:

A March 29 fact-check of an accusation about U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., was justifiably rated Pants on Fire by PolitiFact. The claim is ludicrous on its face, and the final determination was easy. However, the episode gives an excellent example of how political attack ads are crafted, and how little substance is often behind them.
In voting against the 2014 farm bill, DeSantis announced at the time that he believed the bill did not do enough to cut welfare programs, like food stamps. Because illegal immigrants are already prohibited from receiving food stamps, the bill did not change current law on that issue. 
The bill contained a minor provision referencing the food stamp program in the context of requiring states to use an immigration status verification system before determining an individual’s eligibility for food stamps. The implication of the attack against DeSantis is that by voting against the entire bill, which is sweeping in scope and runs hundreds of pages, DeSantis was also voting against the state verification mandate. He therefore "voted in favor of food stamps for illegal immigrants," even though no such vote in the affirmative had occurred. 
When questioned by PolitiFact about the claim against DeSantis, the Central Florida Post—the website that published the original accusation—referenced a report by the conservative and vehemently anti-illegal immigrant organization Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). The CIS report in question discussed a minor loophole in the calculation formula many states use to determine a family’s eligibility for food stamps in cases where some members of a family are legal U.S. residents and others are not. The issue was not addressed in the 2014 farm bill and in no way impacted DeSantis’ vote.
So, in summary, the attack implied that by voting against the massive farm bill, the congressman was somehow voting for benefits for illegal immigrants, which are already prohibited by law. The attack used as its source an obscure partisan website which, in turn, justifies its original attack on DeSantis by referencing a third website’s report on an issue only tangentially related to the accusation. All this despite the fact that the congressman has very clearly explained his reasons for voting against the bill.
This mini-drama gives insight into the anatomy of a political attack ad: Misrepresentations of the facts, implied intent of the public official, questionable or outright bogus news sources, and a willingness to ignore the known facts about the issue. Without fact-checking sites like PolitiFact, it would be nearly impossible for the general public to determine the truth about such a convoluted claim. 
The attack against DeSantis is only one example, but hopefully it gives pause to voters considering the legitimacy of the negative political ads they will see this election season. Be aware that the truth is not always easy to decipher, which is why credible nonpartisan fact checking is so important.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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