With education expected to be a key issue in this year’s gubernatorial campaign, Democratic candidate Charlie Crist announced tuition-loan forgiveness and refinancing programs as part of a “middle class jobs and opportunity plan.”
The plan featured a number of education-related proposals as well as several previously discussed ideas, such as increasing the minimum wage and expanding access to health care.
“To ensure that everyone has a fair shot, Florida needs a governor who will invest in them, not just the big corporations,” Crist, a former Republican governor, said in a prepared statement.
Crist, who attacked Republican Gov. Rick Scott over past education-funding cuts and for failing to expand health care, called the plan “Fair Shot Florida.”
Even before it was released, the plan was panned by Sen. John Thrasher, a St. Augustine Republican who is Scott’s campaign chairman.
“It’s hard to take Charlie Crist seriously on ‘jobs and opportunity’ — because he hurt Florida’s economy so much as governor, he didn’t even want his own job,” Thrasher said in a statement issued by the Scott campaign more than three hours before Crist’s announcement. “Charlie Crist had his shot at being governor — but he failed, then ran away.”
Thrasher was referring to Crist’s decision to run unsuccessfully in 2010 for a U.S. Senate seat rather than seeking a second term as governor. Education, ranging from public schools to colleges and universities, will be a closely watched issue in the campaign.
Among other things, Scott has campaigned on his efforts to hold down tuition costs in the higher-education system.
Crist’s new plan also touches on college-affordability issues. In part, it would:
• Create a loan-forgiveness program for students who graduate from state universities or colleges, study in science, technology, engineering and mathematics-related fields, stay in Florida at least five years and
are employed in their fields of study.
• Expand to other schools the concept of the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars Program. That University of Florida program provides financial assistance to low-income students who are the first in their families to attend college.
• Create a student-loan financing authority to help struggling graduates refinance debt.