Missouri’s Constitution requires the governor to address the General Assembly at the start of every session. And tonight Gov. Jay Nixon did just that.
Presenting his proposed budget and State of the State address to the legislators, Nixon spent most of his hour-long speech talking about the economy and job creation. He also spoke about schools.
“Support for public education should not be used as a wedge to divide us,” he told legislators gathered in the Capitol Building in Jefferson City.
However, Republicans responding later to the governor’s address did not indicate willingness to cooperate. According to Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer (Columbia), the legislature has increased school funding over the last several years, only to see it taken away by the governor.
“Missouri schools have received less and less money — for classrooms, for transportation, for technology and for creating future opportunity,” he said.
One thing the Democratic governor and the Republican legislators did agree on was the importance of education to the economic future of the state.
“To compete in a changing global economy, Missouri must have world-class public schools,” Nixon said.
The budget he proposed increased money for education. In his education plan, the governor called for legislation fixing problems with the state’s school funding formula and with unaccredited districts. In addition, Nixon asked the legislature to pass a bill holding charter schools fiscally and academically accountable. He also said public school teachers should be accountable for student academic success.
Although the governor recommended revising the school funding formula, Schaefer in his Republican response implied a fix was not necessary. He said the current formula should be fully funded and has not been since the start of the start of the economic downturn. Furthermore, he pointed out the fact that Missouri’s Constitution requires government to prioritize funding first for the payment of public debts and second for public education, so the governor has no choice but to fund the schools.
Indeed, although Nixon vowed to cut state spending by $1.6 billion, he declared he would not balance the budget by taking money from education.
Nixon did not describe specifics about what he thought legislators should do to assist unaccredited districts. He did praise efforts in St. Louis to turn the schools around. But he did not mention the Kansas City, Missouri School District, referring only to “our urban school districts on both sides of the state.”
Reports last fall of failing charter schools in both Kansas City and St. Louis have led to concern about academic and financial accountability. During their monthly meeting today, members of the State Board of Education considered a proposed new rule that would hold sponsors responsible for the performance of charter schools under their purview. According to Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro — who attended the State of the State speech in the Capitol Building this evening — Missouri statute already holds sponsors accountable and what is needed is a new rule. However, the governor went further with his call for more legislation.
In addition, Nixon said public school teachers should be “accountable for what kids are learning.” He did not outline an accountability plan. but the Missouri State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is working on that as well. Next month they plan to submit a request to the U.S. Department of Education for a waiver of requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. As part of that waiver, Missouri must devise an accountability plan for teachers.
Archived video of Governor Jay Nixon’s State of the State speech: http://www.mo.gov/sots2012/
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