Gov. Jay Nixon sat in the library of Marion Elementary School in the Ritenour School District as fifth graders learned about the robots they would build this semester.
The class is part of Project Lead the Way (PLTW), a national nonprofit that uses hands-on learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The overwhelming number of Missouri schools with PLTW programs offer it only at the high school level. Nixon was at the school to promote his plan to expand this type of learning into 350 grade-school classrooms across the state.
“The jobs and careers of the future, whether it's Boeing, General Motors, Monsanto, Twitter, it’s going to require training in math, science and technology,” Nixon said.
Nixon’s budget proposal, unveiled during his State of the State address on Wednesday night, calls for funneling $2 million in grants from the state to pay for expanding the program. And overall, Nixon would like to increase state spending on education by $150 million.
Most of that money, $129 million, would go toward the foundation formula, which is used to fund K-12 schools. Nixon faces a tricky path to hit that total number and he would need to have the Republican-controlled legislature pass both his proposed budget and a supplemental budget item. Even if Nixon is successful, it would still leave the foundation formula $360 million short of being fully funded, according to state budget direct Linda Luebbering.
When asked how the playing field in St. Louis-area schools could be leveled without fully funding the formula, Nixon said ramping up student success isn't a job that can be done with money alone.
“I wish you could write a check and everybody would get perfect grades,” Nixon said.
However, he said the state has an obligation to live up to under the foundation formula. Nixon added that it’s increasingly difficult to attract and retain qualified teachers if districts don’t have the resources to increase their salaries.
“When you look at the worldwide competition for talent, it’s exceedingly important for us to reflect the value of public education in the amount we pay folks who work at it,” Nixon said.
Department of Justice Investigation
Several news outlets have reported that the Justice Department is close to clearing former police officer Darren Wilson of violating the civil rights of Michael Brown in his shooting death. Violence erupted in Ferguson following the announcement on Nov. 24 that a grand jury would not recommend Wilson face criminal charges in Brown’s death.
Nixon said he hopes any response to the Justice Department's decision will be peaceful.
“I thought it would have been helpful if the Department of Justice, since they were involved in the interviews at the same time as the local authorities… if the announcement about the conclusions of those were made at the same time,” Nixon said.
Nixon was sharply criticized both nationally and locally for his response to the grand jury’s decision. In particular, he was criticized for not quickly deploying the Missouri National Guard to parts of Ferguson that saw heavy looting. When pressed again on Thursday about the response, he reiterated that the guard was in the area at the time protecting what he has referred to “static” locations.
St. Louis Public Radio's Jo Mannies contributed information for this story.