Education took center stage alongside health care on Monday night during Gov. Jay Nixon’s State of the State Address, as the governor called for a $150 million increase in education spending this year.
Delivering the first State of the State Address of his second term, Nixon proposed budget increases of $17 million for early childhood education, $100 million for K-12 education and $34 million for higher education.
“We expect better test scores, better graduation rates, more college degrees and more Missourians ready to compete for the best jobs in a global economy,” Nixon said.
In the GOP Response to Nixon’s address, House Speaker Tim Jones (R-Eureka) challenged the governor’s record on education, saying Nixon has a history of putting “the temporary benefits of entitlement funding ahead of lasting benefits of education.” Jones said the legislature has shown true leadership on the education front in recent years, and he cited legislators’ reversal of a proposed $106-million cut to funding for higher education last year as proof.
The $100 million Nixon has allocated for K-12 education in 2013 would cover the training of more teachers, the modernization of school equipment and the lengthening of the school year by six days. Missouri currently has the fourth-shortest school year in the country, Nixon said.
Mike Wood of the Missouri Teachers Association, the state’s largest K-12 teachers group, said Nixon did a good job of outlining his priorities.
“I think those priorities are quite bold,” said Wood, the associate executive director of governmental relations for the MTA, which has 44,000 members. “But I think the other purpose of his speech was to make his case and educate why he feels the initiatives are important.”
Nixon also proposed the issuance of a bond — to be paid for with money saved by the elimination of certain tax credits — that would establish a permanent fund dedicated, in part, to improving schools. The fund would support upgrades to classrooms and technology in schools across the state and help revamp science, technology, engineering and math facilities at the state’s universities.
The bond’s proceeds would also fund improvements to the Fulton State Mental Hospital and upgrades to state parks, Nixon said.
Wood said the educational piece of the proposed bond would be “useful for a number of districts for a number of years. The fact that it will be repaid each year … will leave money in that pool of money for other districts and future districts down the line.”