In the four years before I took office, Florida lost more than 825,000 jobs, unemployment more than tripled from 3.5 percent to 11.1 percent, and state debt increased by $5.2 billion. Today, our businesses have created more than 280,000 new private sector jobs, Florida's unemployment rate has dropped below the national average to 7.8 percent, we have paid down state debt by $2 billion; and we are not stopping there. We cut taxes, eliminated thousands of regulations on job creators, and invested in education. IT'S WORKING.
Because we made the hard choices over the last two years, we are able to make the smart choices to keep our economy growing this year. We have a projected budget surplus for the first time in six years. Our challenges are different in this budget, but our goal is absolutely the same: economic growth and job creation.
This year, we have two priorities to keep our economy growing: first - remove the sales tax on manufacturing equipment to create more manufacturing jobs, and second - invest in our teachers by providing them a well-deserved pay raise. Our Florida Families First Budget supports these priorities while maintaining substantial reserves. This is responsible stewardship of taxpayer money.
Why are we so focused on creating jobs and improving education? Why do we focus on putting Florida Families First in our budget? Because every Florida family wants not just to dream, but to have the opportunity to make those dreams come true. We must invest in our education system, support our teachers and cut taxes to help create more jobs. Our work to cut spending and live within our means over the last two years has allowed us to once again invest in education. Student learning is important to the economy because the workers of tomorrow are in Florida classrooms today.
The single most important factor in student learning is the quality of teaching. That is why we eliminated teacher tenure, signed performance pay into law, and it will take effect in 2014. Florida's education system is making tremendous progress, due in large part to our great teachers and many in the Legislature. Our students and teachers were recently ranked sixth for educational quality; and our fourth-graders scored among the highest in the world on a recent reading evaluation.
The best way we can build on this progress is to reward our hard-working teachers with a $2,500 pay raise. Some say they are afraid that giving raises to all teachers may mean that a teacher doing a bad job gets rewarded. But, thanks to our work, we are now in a better position than ever before to reward good teachers and move bad teachers out of the classroom. We don't want a war on teachers; we want a war on failure. An investment in Florida teachers is an investment in Florida's future because teachers change lives.
That is why our budget increases K-12 education funding by more than $1.2 billion. This billion dollar commitment builds on our billion dollar investment in K-12 education last year and our total education investment in state funding for K-12 schools this year is the highest state funding level in Florida history. This represents an increase of more than $400 in per student funding over the current fiscal year. Getting a great education helps dreams come true and those dreams are almost always jobs. That is why our formula for success focuses on education and jobs.
As long as even one Florida family needs a job, our work is not done. That is why we are committed to removing the sales tax on manufacturing equipment. Florida is one of only a few states with this tax, and we lag behind the nation in per capita manufacturing jobs. Manufacturing has a major impact on our economy because every manufacturing job supports two to three other jobs in our state.
I believe Florida will be the number one place in the world for job creation, the number one place in the world to get a great education, and the number one place in the world where families can afford to live. Everything we have done together over the last two years has been geared toward economic growth. IT'S WORKING.