A year after proposing drastic cuts in higher education funding, Gov. Jay Nixon slated a $34 million increase for state universities.
In his State of the State speech Monday night, Nixon said he will increase the budget for education by $150 million, with an increase of $17 million for early education – which will more than double funding for the Missouri Preschool Program – and a $100 million increase for K-12 classrooms.
“The cost of college is still too out of reach for too many Missouri families,” Nixon said. “Too many (students) graduate with crushing debt.”
The A+ Program has expanded to 150 more schools, Nixon said, but some are not part of it.
The A+ Program is a program that provides scholarships to students who have graduated from A+ designated schools and are attending certain schools that accept A+ credit.
These schools typically include public community colleges and vocational/technical schools, according to the Missouri Department of Higher Education.
“This is the year we’ll expand our A+ Program to every high school in the state,” Nixon said.
Students who enroll in the A+ Program are required to keep their grades up, to have excellent attendance and to maintain a responsible lifestyle.
“Nothing will have a greater impact on our children’s future than the commitment we make now to their education,” Nixon said. “Education is the best economic development tool there is.”
With the increase in funding comes increases in expectations and accountability, Nixon said, including higher test scores, graduation rates and an increase in the number of students earning college degrees.
“In the past four years, our schools have made steady gains,” Nixon said. “Our high school graduation rate is now the seventh highest in the nation.”
Nixon said he wants to tie new funding to specific performance goals, including increased retention and higher graduation rates.
“There are 750,000 Missourians who started college, but never completed their degrees,” Nixon said. “They left school, got jobs, started families and some may feel going back to college is too expensive.”
Nixon said he wants to help students get the degrees they started, get better jobs and fulfill their potential.
“With today’s technology, we can make it easier than ever for people to finish their degrees without disrupting their lives,” Nixon said.
He said $100 million in new funding will be used to train more teachers, modernize equipment and lengthen the school year.
Right now, Missouri has the fourth shortest school year, Nixon said, and he believes adding six days to the school year will give teachers more time to educate their students.
Nixon also mentioned ways to help those who have served our country.
To help veterans who are returning to the state and are in search of jobs, he wants employers to reach out and recruit veterans first for job openings.
“It’s not enough to honor and support them abroad,” Nixon said. “We must honor and support them at home.”
Nixon also addressed controversial health care issues.
“The biggest economic decision facing our state is how to move forward on health care,” Nixon said. “I have my problems with it, but it is the law of the land.”
Several chambers – including Springfield’s – have endorsed the Medicaid expansion.
“It’s not a political decision,” Nixon said. “It’s an economic one.”
The University of Missouri estimated Medicaid expansion will generate 24,000 jobs in 2014, Nixon said, including an increase in jobs for nurses, doctors, pharmacists, therapists and medical technicians.
A stronger Medicaid system will help 300,000 Missourians who work day and night, but cannot afford health care coverage, Nixon said.
Nixon’s budget also includes $10 million to help those with mental illness get timely, effective treatment in their own communities.
Nixon concluded his address with the notion that while Republicans and Democrats don’t always agree on everything, his “faith in the people of Missouri has never faltered;” that the words inscribed on the Seal of Missouri should be our call to action: “Let the Good of the People Be the Supreme Law.”