Governor: Missouri's focus should be education
Education should be Missouri’s primary focus, Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt said Friday at Crowder College, one of several stops made throughout the state as part of an education-themed tour.
Stumping in Neosho last December, State Attorney General Jay Nixon, Blunt’s political opponent in this year’s gubernatorial race, had accused the governor of weakening higher education.
Blunt had sold Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority assets for his Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative, which helps fund capital improvement projects at Missouri colleges. Crowder received $2 million last year from the program to help construct its Arnold Farber academic building, due for completion this summer.
In introducing Blunt on Friday, State Sen. Gary Nodler — who pushed the Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative through the legislature — called him “the higher education governor.”
That’s because, should the General Assembly approve Blunt’s proposed budget this year, education spending — including for colleges and universities — will have ballooned by $1.2 billion since he took office, Blunt said. This is the highest rise in state history without a tax increase, he said.
“Education in the past really has been sort of a pawn and budget battle,” Blunt said. “When education is not the central priority of the budget, it’s easy to take from education to make up for out of control spending in other parts of the budget.”
As specifically related to higher education, Blunt listed a number of accomplishments under his administration, including the Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative, tuition control mechanisms to keep college fees below the rate of inflation, doubling funding this year for the state’s A+ Program (a state-paid incentive for students to attend community colleges) and more than doubling the number of need-based scholarships awarded through the Access Missouri program.
Blunt said this year he has requested that funding for need-based scholarships be quadrupled.
“That four-fold increase will help thousands of additional students gain access to a need-based scholarship and make higher education a reality for them and their family,” Blunt said. “It helps to ensure they get the education they want and deserve, and will ultimately build a more prosperous Missouri.”
All told, more than $193 million will have been spent in new funding for higher education, according to Blunt.
Even weightier, however, K-12 education spending will have increased by $662.6 million.
Positive results, Blunt mentioned, from the extra funds allotted to primary and secondary education included significant gains last year by 4th and 8th graders on testing scores — Missouri being one of only six states where 4th graders scored higher in all five areas of the national achievement test.
Also, he said a record 74 percent of Missouri high schoolers took the ACT last year, beating the national average.
Blunt said that showed improvement, but there was still more to achieve.
“We have a role at the state level, and that is to pressure, in some cases, and certainly always encourage our schools at all levels to improve and be more competitive with their global peers,” he said. “But we also have a responsibility to support them with funding and encouragement, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
Later, in response to a comment made by Newton County Central Republican Committee chairman Nick Myers, Blunt agreed Missouri still had a long way to go to make up for past negligence to the state’s education funding.
Nodler, during his own comments, said that the first two years he spent on the senate appropriations committee were the sixth and seventh consecutive year the higher education budget was cut under the existing funding formula at that time.
He said the very first budget Blunt crafted as governor, submitted to the General Assembly, included a two percent boost in higher education funding — the first increase in almost a decade.
“There’s been some underfunding in the past, and we haven’t had some equalizations that we should have,” Blunt said. “…Education funding needs to be our central priority if we’re going to have a prosperous Missouri. And the next generation is going to enjoy and even higher quality of life than Missourians enjoy today.”
Neosho Daily News