JEFFERSON CITY — On the same day Missouri lawmakers returned for a special session to raise taxes for education, the state Education Department sent a memo to school districts across the state asking for information to support the governor’s claims about cuts in public schools.
In his special session call last week, Democratic Gov. Bob Holden said that schools throughout Missouri have had to layoff teachers and raise taxes as a result of what he called “the legislature’s failure to fulfill its constitutional duty to provide adequate funding.”
But at his news conference announcing the special session, Holden was unable to cite specifics as to the number of teachers laid off, tax increases proposed or classes canceled.
“The governor wants more inclusive figures,” said the governor’s chief spokeswoman, Mary Still. “We wanted it done before the special session but were unable to get the poll out in time.”
Republican leaders expressed outrage at the governor’s effort to justify a special session.
“The purpose of sending this out is to find some bad examples to use in order to justify throwing out more money,” Republican Senate Majority Floor Leader Michael Gibbons, R-St. Louis, said. “They’re probably going to find some horrific story out there that will probably be a great rhetorical device, and I’m sure that’s what they’re trying to find.”
House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, R-Warson Woods, said she hoped the governor would ask school superintendents what programs they would restore if withheld funds were reinstated.
Republicans maintain that other factors besides money contribute to the condition of state schools.
“Obviously money is important, but things like committed parents and good teachers are just as important,” Gibbons said. “And this poll doesn’t take into account those factors.”
The poll, sent Monday to all 524 school superintendents across the state, asks each superintendent to identify staff reductions, tax levy increases and course reductions that have been made for the current school year by the end of the day Wednesday.
“We’ll see what kind of response we get. This is on very short notice,” said Jim Morris, a spokesman for the Education Department.