MIAMI -

Fresh off his cruise to victory in Tuesday's primary, Gov. Rick Scott embarked on a new voyage Wednesday, persuading the federal government to back off its recent warning that Florida needs to toughen up its school grading system.

"We're doing the right thing. We don't need the federal government to tell us how to run our school system. We care about our kids, they are our kids," Scott said during a visit to Southside Elementary School, where he was joined by Miami-Dade School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and state Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart.

The trio was at the school to explain why Florida doesn't include an English Language Learning student's assessment test scores in their schools overall grade until after that child has been in school for two years.

The federal government wants the state to count all student scores equally and under the No Child Left Behind Act, those schools that perform poorly could face strict oversight, mandated tutoring programs and possible closure.

"We have 72,000 children who are currently learning English -- that's the equivalent of being a large school system anywhere in America", Carvalho said.

"We believe school that have English language learners should not be penalized. Unfortunately federal officials disagree," Scott said.

It's clear education is going to be a key issue in Scott's re-election campaign against former-Republican-governor-turned-Democratic-contender Charlie Crist, a gubernatorial race that's expected to be among the nastiest and most costly in the country.

And Scott was ready to throw the first jab on the topic on the first day of this 10-week fight.

"It's sort of laughable when Charlie Crist wants to talk about education. Now let's think about what he did when he was governor -- he cut education funding. It was less when he left that when he started, Scott said.

Crist accuses Scott of cutting education funding during his first year in office by $1.3 billion. A check of that claim by Florida Politifact shows it's true but largely due to the expiration of federal stimulus dollars, which the legislature didn't replace. The state has since restored most of that funding.

Scott said if the federal government doesn't rethink its requirement that Florida change its school grading system, the state will look at its legal options to retain its good standing in the federal funding program.