Gov. Jay Nixon came to Fort Zumwalt North High School Wednesday on his “Good Schools, Good Jobs” tour, and based on the questions he was asked in a class he visited, many of the students there could end up with jobs in journalism.
The class is called “advanced leadership,” and the students were far from shy when invited by the governor to ask about topics of the day. From gay marriage to workers’ rights to gun control to student transfers, the students showed they were up on the issues facing Missouri and wanted to know where Nixon stood. The answers weren’t always very illuminating.
Would he consider himself a moderate, one student asked?
“I try not to think of things in an overly partisan way,” Nixon told the class. Pointing out that he has cut taxes four times and balanced the budget during his five years as governor, he said he would be considered a conservative fiscally but not necessarily in other areas.
The governor doesn’t want to take away workers’ rights to bargain collectively, and he would like to see ways to make them more productive rather than institute new rules for employment. Any other route, he said, would be a “race to the bottom.”
On gun control, Nixon noted that he is a hunter and believes in the Second Amendment. Other than that, he would like to see enforcement of the laws already on the books.
Asked about student transfers, he stressed a three-pronged plan for schools that includes more money for early childhood education, quicker intervention when it becomes clear that a school district is struggling and high expectations for students on the part of teachers and parents.
And, he added, communities must support their schools as much as the Fort Zumwalt community does.
“Schools are only as good as the community wants them to be,” Nixon told the students.
At an assembly, Nixon was introduced by long-time Fort Zumwalt Superintendent Bernard DuBray as “our strongest supporter in Jefferson City and always has been on education.”
Revisiting themes from last week’s State of the State address, Nixon noted that he has asked lawmakers to approve an increase of $278 million for schools in kindergarten through 12th grade. That would put Missouri on the path toward fully funding its school foundation formula in two years.
A chart put out by Nixon’s office showed that the increase would mean $6.4 million more for Fort Zumwalt, a district Nixon hailed as one of the state’s finest, with the designation of accreditation with distinction for 10 straight years.
The extra funding would mean more teachers, more computer equipment and the opportunity for 150 more children in the district to enter pre-school programs.
“I think that’s a pretty solid investment,” Nixon said.
The governor noted that the way Missouri can come up with the extra money for education will be through what he called old-fashioned fiscal discipline, shrinking the size of state government to make it more efficient and able to return more money to local control.
Calling his support of schools not a political position but a value for Missouri, Nixon said: “Nothing will have a greater impact on our future than public education.”
He noted that after World War II, U.S. Sen. Champ Clark of Missouri helped guide the GI Bill through Congress, providing the means for returning veterans to earn college degrees.
“We said you all can go to college,” Nixon said, “and we’ll pay for it.”
Today, he added, such an emphasis on education is even more important, as the job market has become an international one. Noting that General Motors is spending $500 million to add production of two new vehicles in Wentzville, he said the automaker could have made that investment anywhere, but because of the climate in Missouri, “they chose us.”
To keep that momentum going, he told the students, “we have to up our game on all levels.”
He also told the students that given community support, lower college tuition and increased money for scholarships, the odds are in their favor if they work hard.
“The bottom line,” Nixon said, “is that there is no reason why you can’t succeed.”