Gov. Bob Holden spoke to a crowd of more than 300 cheering teachers and administrators Wednesday at the Missouri National Education Association’s annual leadership conference in Columbia.
The association announced its support for Holden — who faces a primary election Aug. 3 — last fall, said Greg Jung, MNEA president.
“We’re happy to have the governor here,” Jung said. “He’s done everything he can for education.”
Holden was not originally scheduled to speak at the event and many attendees were unaware that the governor was coming until about two hours before he arrived.
Before the speech, some teachers said they hoped the governor would address funding issues in education and why he withheld $83.2 million from education this past year. He released the money in April. The withholding caused many teachers to worry about losing their jobs and cuts in school programs, said Tonya Jackson, a teacher in the Hazelwood School District in the St. Louis area.
Holden did not speak about the withholding. But he did refer to this week’s Democratic gubernatorial debates with State Auditor Claire McCaskill.
“Boy, it’s great to be among friends. Up until the last two nights, during those debates, I didn’t realize our teachers were doing such a bad job until I listened to the other side,” Holden joked.
He said that for him, unlike some of his challengers, education wasn’t a political issue but “the most personal of personal issues.”
“If you thought I was going to give a nonpartisan speech you might as well get up and walk out now because I’m going to be very candid in my comments,” he said.
Holden said Republicans were “morally wrong and fiscally irresponsible” for not closing loopholes that allow businesses to shift their profits to other states in order to avoid paying taxes in Missouri.
“Those leaders tried every way under the sun to cut the funding in education so that they could continue to protect the corporate tax interest of major businesses in this state and around the country that used Missouri as a means to make a profit,” he said.
The governor reminded the crowd of a $300 million addition to the state’s education foundation formula during his first two years in office with the Democrat-led legislature. He also attacked Republican leaders for their attempt to cut $189 million in education funding in Holden’s third year in office.
“I vetoed that budget twice, called them back into special session and forced them to put $74 million back into education,” Holden said. He thanked the association members for their support of his administration and “commitment to the children of this state.”