In a busy visit to Rockwood Summit High School Monday morning, Gov. Jay Nixon recorded a tagline for the school’s radio station, won a free throw showdown with the school’s scholar athlete and even posed for a selfie with a student.
But whenever he could, the governor returned to what obviously was his main message: A $620 million tax cut passed by the Missouri legislature last week would hurt students and the state’s efforts to attract jobs with a well-educated workforce. (The governor has also scheduled a press conference Tuesday in Jefferson City to emphasize the point again.)
Touting new investment in the General Motors plant in Wentzville and Missouri’s high ranking in growth in high-tech jobs, Nixon told a student assembly that the tax-cut bill would give money to lawyers and others at the expense of his efforts to fully fund the school foundation formula.
After lawmakers gave final approval to the bill, Nixon’s office released a chart put together by the Missouri School Boards Association showing how each school district in the state would be affected by the $223 million reduction in money for the formula. In Rockwood, it showed a reduction by nearly $5.2 million.
Nixon noted that his budget would have increased funding in Rockwood by $5.7 million, helping the district extend its full-day kindergarten program and providing increased technology.
“We want to make sure we’ve got enough time that all Missourians understand the choice we have here,” Nixon said after addressing an assembly and taking questions from half a dozen students. “That choice is very clear: whether we’re going to fully fund our schools or whether we’re going to continue to have a situation in which we give huge tax breaks to incredibly wealthy people while we’re only giving the average family of four a $32 tax break in 2022, while at the same time cutting our schools. That doesn’t seem like a good calculus for a bright future for our state.”
Noting he has only 15 days to respond to the bill, the governor said he would be responding to the bill soon.
Asked whether he is confident that any veto of the legislation could be sustained, as his veto of a tax-cut bill was last year, he said he hopes Missourians will rally to his point of view.
“When folks understand how important it is to fund our schools and to fully fund the formula,” Nixon said, “I feel good that the people of our state will once again communicate what the real important long-term strategy is for our state.”
And like last year, Nixon said the latest tax-cut bill has what he called “significant errors in the way the bill has been drafted…. We’re seeing some challenges in this one.”
Good schools, good jobs
Nixon’s visit to Rockwood Summit was a continuation of his “Good Schools, Good Jobs” tour of schools in the state, trying to tie strong education to economic prosperity. He made that pitch in two classroom visits, one to the sophomore advanced placement class of social studies teacher Jamie Manker, Missouri’s teacher of the year, and the other to Clay Zigler’s radio class.
Manker’s students had already rehearsed where everyone would stand for the requisite class photo, including a spot for the governor. He told the class he was there for three reasons – to congratulate Rockwood Summit for being designated one of the nation’s top high schools, to thank teachers and other staff members for the work they do and to emphasize that they need to learn as much as they can to compete in a global economy.
Asked about his favorite opportunities as governor, Nixon recalled his visit to Europe last year as part of a trade mission and taking part in a D-Day anniversary ceremony, where he said he got a deeper appreciation of the American leadership role in World War II.
The toughest part of being governor? Nixon singled out overzealous partisanship.
“When people give their reason for doing something as being their political party, it’s disappointing,” he said. “They should be serving everybody.”
His next stop was Zigler’s radio class to meet the student staff of KFTN – now online only, soon to be available at 92.7 FM, once the money can be raised for the necessary equipment. He joined students in their studio to record a promotional tagline: “The Voice of the Falcons.”
At the assembly, he noted that just as the students receive grades on their work, schools are graded by the state, and Summit has risen to a lofty position. But, he added, students need to realize that what they learn there needs to prepare them for a worldwide economy.
“When I was in high school down in De Soto,” Nixon said, “I competed with the kids across the hall.” At college, he added, his competition was more widespread.
Today, he said, “competition is global. Companies can take their investment and their jobs literally anywhere in the world.”
The key to success, he said, is education.
“It’s pretty simple,” Nixon explained. “To create good jobs, we need good schools.”
Common Core, common question
The first student question was on a topic that has stirred debate in Jefferson City – Common Core standards, which are set to be implemented in Missouri starting with the 2014-15 school year.
Nixon noted that worldwide competition in education is as strong as it is in business. But, he said, “some folks think we should not move forward and be more rigorous.” He disagrees, saying it is unfair to students not to give them the tough education they need to succeed.
In an interview after the assembly, he expanded on the topic, saying that when you raise standards, some people are sure to object.
“When you expect more out of folks,” Nixon said, “it’s challenging. But I think rigor is something important to have in our schools.”
He added that he understands concerns about the process that developed the standards, but he noted that the states got together to make them happen, and that point needs to be hammered home.
“I think we can continue to work with local districts and others,” Nixon said, “ to make sure that we get good input for the next year or two years to make sure that we take away the fear to compete at a higher level and work together to get that done.”
Other questions centered on money, from minimum wage to college tuition. He urged students to take advantage of advanced placement college opportunities, noting that “if you get 15 hours in high school, that’s like getting a $15,000 check.”
Nixon ended the session with a free-throw challenge with Claire Dmuchovsky, a senior student who is Summit’s scholar athlete. After stripping off his suit coat, he swished his try; she came up short. Then she tried a shot from beyond the three-point line and again missed, but he quit while he was ahead – and signed a basketball for Claire.