Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon proposed a nearly half-billion-dollar spending surge for public education Tuesday as he urged lawmakers to harness the revenues generated by an improving economy to make up for years of funding shortfalls for schools.
The Democratic governor proposed a $278 million increase in basic aid for public school districts, plus millions of more dollars for preschool programs, student scholarships and state colleges and universities.
As he delivered his sixth annual State of the State address to a joint session of the House and Senate, Nixon said Missouri's elected officials had built a solid budgetary foundation through tough economic times and with "our economy picking up steam" now face "a defining moment for our state."
"On the campaign trail, I'll bet almost all of us made a promise to invest in our students and our schools," he told the Republican-led Legislature. "Well, you know what? It's time to put our budgets where our campaign brochures are.
"Now it's time to decide whether we're merely going to talk about public education, or whether we're going to fund it," Nixon added.
Missouri currently is spending about $3 billion annually in basic aid for public elementary and secondary schools. The governor's proposal would move Missouri halfway toward covering a projected $556 million shortfall in the amount of money called for under a state school funding law. Nixon said he wants to cover the rest of that amount the following year.
Although Republican lawmakers have expressed support for schools, they also have questioned Nixon's optimistic budget forecast and have said that they likely will have to cut some of his proposed spending.
As Nixon outlined his education proposals, Republican lawmakers generally sat silently as Democratic lawmakers and educators packing the public galleries repeatedly stood to applaud and cheer.
The Legislature has until early May to give final approval to a spending plan for the 2015 fiscal year that starts July 1. That budget then will go back to Nixon, who can cut it but not add to it.