Video by Renata Williams
Gov. Jay Nixon addressed an eager crowd of former educators, lobbyists and concerned citizens Tuesday evening at the Columbia Public Schools Aslin Building, 1818 W. Worley. The topic of the discussion was Senate Bill 509, which Missouri educators, financial experts and educational professionals have been discussing this term.
This meeting is one of many the governor has attended across the state to address the same topic, yet Nixon appears to have lost no zeal in his opinion in regard to Senate Bill 509.
“It’s really pretty simple. In order to create good jobs, we need to have good schools,” Nixon said. “This is the year to get serious about fulfilling the promise we made and fulfilling the obligations of the law and funding our schools.”
In the fully crowded conference room, such a sentiment seemed to fall upon eagerly receptive ears. Long ago, the state passed the funding bill, also known as the foundation formula. They failed to fully enact the bill, which has only recently met a firm and adamant promise of implementation at the hands of Nixon, against Senate Bill 509.
“Last week the General Assembly put on my desk Senate Bill 509, a fiscal ticking time-bomb that would blow a $620 million hole in our state budget and force significant cuts to public education budgets and services,” Nixon said. “Senate Bill 509 would reduce state revenue by $620 million if fully implemented. To put that number into context that is the equivalent that it would take to fully fund the [foundation] formula and keep college affordable with another tuition freeze, combined.”
Nixon adamantly noted a certain clause within the bill, which directly pertains to how the state collects income tax revenue. In reality, Nixon proposed that the bill expressly stated the explosion of the collection of nearly 65 percent of Missouri’s general revenue.
“The version of 509 that actually got to my desk, would eliminate income tax on all Missourians that make greater than $9,000 a year,” Nixon said. “That’s right, eliminate. This provision alone would cost $4.8 billion, eliminate 97 percent of all individual income tax revenue … and ultimately push Missouri into fiscal chaos.”
Overall, the bill pertains to much more funding than that of public education, but in reality, fully encompasses it as only a small fraction of a larger attempt by Missouri legislatures for total fiscal realignment. In truth, the bill is more far reaching than education, and would alter, to say at least, nearly the entire revenue of the state.
“It is important to note historically that in 2005, nine years ago, Republican legislature and a Republican governor passed this formula,” Nixon said. “Now with our economy picking up steam, there are simply no more excuses not to fund it.”
Throughout the speech, Nixon tirelessly cited the faults that he has identified in the bill. Nixon offered both facts and anecdotal evidence of the bills catastrophic nature and at one point directly blamed such distasteful legislative behaviour to the actions of one billionaire from St. Louis and others on perhaps an ideological mission that would lead to the demise of Missouri’s fiscal self.
“Missouri’s a low tax state so punching a hole that size in our state budget would force significant cuts to public education and other services that support our economy and strengthen the middle class,” Nixon said. “This bill implemented, would be $223 million less for our schools each year. Now in a global marketplace that demands a highly skilled and highly educated work force, stepping back from our commitment to public education would be bad for our students and bad for our economy.”
Still, while his speech appeared laden with zest and zeal for the funding of the foundation formula, and the disregard of senate bill 509, it would appear the sentiment of the governor is one most shared by the audience.
“Well, the funds from the state continue to be less than what we are expecting and that makes it hard to budget and hard to manage your money,” said former educator Sue Wynter, who retired from working at the EEE center for Columbia Public schools. “We are talking about a formula made for K-12 and it has not been funded fully since I taught, and I have taught for 20 years.”
Having attended senate hearings, meetings and conferences long before the governor personally visited them, teachers and educators throughout the state have long been fighting for the full funding of the foundation formula. Now, that it appears promised, in light of senate bill 509, the hopes of these engaged professionals may become a reality.
“I didn’t go this year, but I have testified for both the senate and house appropriations committee before and again, urging them to fund education and the importance of that funding,” Wynter said. “I think that education is an ultimate goal for our whole society, for our whole civilization and if we don’t have education to the level that we need to have it then we are going to fall apart as a nation.”
In all, as of now it seems that for once both the chief executive of the state and the many educators employed through it are finally on the same page, funded and all. Despite what the reason for the fully promised funding for the foundation formula may be, it may remain hard for long term educators to forget the past, but they appear ready to receive the funds nonetheless.
“Missouri is close to the bottom, at 47th. Columbia public schools is the bottom as far as what they pay their teachers and they continue to be at the bottom for what they pay their teachers,” Wynter said, “… the old formula was never funded so they rewrote the whole formula in 2005 kind of at the eleventh hour and now they still don’t fund it and that is illegal.”
By Ross Parks