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Governor to launch 'education listening tour' starting Monday

Scott listening tourGov. Rick Scott's office announced today, yes Saturday, that beginning this Monday, he will embark on an education "listening tour" to hear from teachers, students and parents about their ideas "to improve Florida's education system."

No details or locations have been announced, but the governor will write a blog about the events and a film crew will document the meetings and post them on the governor's education blog "once the students edit and finish the video,'' the governor's press release says. No word on who is paying for this yet.

Since the release of his 2012-13 budget, the governor has increased his focus on education as a backstop to his focus on job creation. 

Scott badly damaged his image among educators, members of the business community and others concerned about the state's education future when, during his first term, he agreed to strip $1.3 billion in K-12 funding from the budget. He also backed the legislature's high profile fight against the state's 180,000 public school teachers by signing a bill that tied their pay to test scores of students.

He signed another bill to reduce the pay of teachers and other workers in the Florida Retirement System by three percent, in order to offset the state's contribution to the pension fund, and he lobbied unsuccessfully to pass a bill that would weaken teachers unions by prohibiting them from collecting dues through payroll deductions. On Friday, the Florida Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the state's appeal to the teacher's union's successful challenge of that pension law.

In April, the Republican Party of Florida launched a television ad promoting the governor's push to restore the $1 billion cut to the K-12 budget -- although the ad doesn't use the word "restore." PolitiFact rated the claim that he added new money to education a half-truth, since the new money had to pay for 30,000 new students as well as make up for past cuts.

The RPOF launched a second ad on Scott's behalf in August, just before the Republican National Convention when his claims about his job creation record were clashing with the bad economy message of the Mitt Romney campaign.

In the latest ad, Scott appeared to distance himself from the much-maligned high stakes FCAT tests. “I’ve listened to the frustrations parents and teachers have with the FCAT. Next year we begin improving our testing system,'' he says in the ad. "No more teaching to the test.”

Meanwhile, the FCAT tests will be phased out in two years in Florida, as the state shifts to end-of-course exams and the national Common Core standards are implemented. Earlier this summer, Scott's administration suffered another black eye when snafus snagged the grading of the FCAT writing scores and the Department of Education had to redo its new school district grades.

"I've learned a lot as governor - you can study all the numbers you want, but listening to parents and teachers is still the best education," Scott says in the ad.

The reaction to the ad by the state's largest teachers' union, the Florida Education Association, was skepticism. The ad ran statewide -- just as school was resuming.

“This video is a campaign ad designed to calm folks down about testing and a PR move to improve Scott’s image,” Mark Pudlow, a spokesman for the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teacher union, told the News Service of Florida last month. “And I think it’s designed to tamp down any chance that testing becomes an issue in legislative races.”

Is this new "education tour" more image repair?