COLUMBIA — During his 2013 State of the State address, Gov. Jay Nixon proposed more than $150 million total in increases to education throughout Missouri.
Among the variety of issues Nixon addressed in his speech, the suggested increases to education were applauded by both Republicans and Democrats.
His proposals include a $17 million increase in early childhood education, $100 million in new funding for K-12 classrooms and an increase of $34 million in higher education funding.
Early childhood education
Early childhood education is a smart investment with a big return, Nixon said. He's spent the past few weeks visiting preschools and talking with early childhood education leaders about the best ways to enable students to succeed.
“We want every child in every Missouri community — no matter their family’s circumstances — to get the best possible start,” Nixon said.
The proposed $17 million increase in funding means more money would be allocated toward programs such as Early Head Start, whose budget was cut nearly in half last year, and the Missouri Preschool Program, whose budget would nearly double under Nixon's proposal this year.
“We know the early years of a child’s life are critical,” Nixon said.
Although Missouri’s high school graduation rate is now the seventh highest in the nation, Nixon said the state must commit to even higher goals in K-12 education.
“That’s why my budget includes $100 million in new funding for our K-12 classrooms,” Nixon said. “We’ll use it to train more teachers, modernize equipment and lengthen the school year.”
Among that increase, $65 million would be for the K-12 foundation formula, according to a document listing Nixon's proposed budget increases. But Nixon also proposed increases for several other programs, including:
- A $10.3 million increase for K-12 special education for high-cost students and educational opportunities for students in low-income school districts.
- A $1 million increase to the A+ Scholarship Program, which covers tuition and fees at all Missouri public community colleges.
- More than $75 million allocated for Access Missouri and Bright Flight scholarships, merit-based scholarships available to top-ranked Missouri high school seniors.
“The dream of a college education should be within reach for all Missouri families because education is the best economic development tool there is,” Nixon said.
Another way to improve local schools is by establishing a low-interest loan fund through bond issuance, Nixon said.
“With our perfect AAA credit rating intact and interest rates at all-time lows, we now have a unique opportunity to move forward with bond issuance,” Nixon said. “Which is why I am proposing the creation of the BOOST Fund. BOOST stands for Building Opportunities in Our Schools Today.”
But Nixon has been absent when it comes to leadership on the issue of education, Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones said in the Republican response. Especially at a time when Missouri's two largest school districts are failing, and universities are struggling to find ways to prepare young people for the jobs of the future, he said.
“Each year, (Nixon) has responded by withholding millions of dollars from our schools,” Jones said. “Pledging your commitment to our children and then failing to support them flies in the face of good governance and leadership.”
The 2014 fiscal year is the first year additional funding for Missouri colleges and universities will be tied to certain performance measures, such as increased graduation rates, increased student retention and improved learning.
Distributed according to schools' performance in those measures, Nixon's proposed increase of $34 million to public colleges and universities is an average increase of 4 percent for each school.
The University of Missouri System met all of the performance measures and would receive a 4.3 percent increase in funding under Nixon's plan, according to the document listing Nixon's proposed budget increases.
“We will achieve higher academic goals with greater accountability,” he said.
Nixon also addressed helping nearly 750,000 Missouri residents complete their college educations.
Students will be able to begin enrolling in Western Governors University-Missouri, a nonprofit online institution offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business, health care, information technology and teacher preparation.
“We’ll be helping Missourians who never finished college, who are underemployed and who need degrees to move up, reach their full potential,” he said. “Now that’s a mission we can all get behind.”
Students at WGU-Missouri will be able to take tests at night and on weekends, pay a flat rate for courses and complete courses at their own pace, Nixon said.
“It’s designed to meet the needs of real people with real lives,” he said.
Supervising editor is Zach Murdock.