COLUMBIA, Mo. – Gov. Jay Nixon spoke at the Annual Cooperative Conference for School Administrators, an event bringing together education officials from around the state organized by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on Tuesday.
Nixon used the opportunity to speak about two bills he vetoed as well as what he sees as current cultural problems in Jefferson City after news broke last week that state Sen. Paul LeVota allegedly sexually harassed an intern from the University of Central Missouri.
“While there are a great many dedicated, well-meaning public servants in the legislature, this past session highlighted some serious and long-running problems in the Missouri General Assembly, issues that affect the public policies that the legislature pursues and the people that work there and the students that come there during college,” he said during the speech.
Nixon added that he thought LeVota made the right decision in stepping down, but that he, along with the legislative branch, needed to make efforts towards stopping a culture in the capital that has now seen two elected officials, LeVota and former House Speaker John Diehl, resign from office in the last three months after their sex scandals went public.
The governor noted that he believes Missourians wanted the atmosphere of Jefferson City to change.
“Anytime you live in a place 80 percent of the public wants something, you should be able to eventually get it,” Nixon said. “I do think some of the high profile challenges, whether it’s the Speaker’s challenge or LeVota’s, have crystallized in the public that we’ve had enough. It’s time to make some changes.”
Nixon proffered that numerous changes, including a shortening of the legislative session, campaign contribution limits, and less gift-giving to legislators from lobbyists could help curtail some of the behavior. He tied this into the conference, one focused on education, by implying that one of the bills he vetoed, HB 42, had suffered from increased pressure from lobbyists, added amendments and “dangerous experimentation” by legislators that made what he considered a solid bill designed to help struggling school districts in St. Louis into one that focused on charter schools around the state.
“Public dollars should be used for public education, not private education.” he said to applause. “Public education is a value that should you strengthen, not experiment with. When we say strengthen, you are not standing still, no one who is taking their summer time to come sit at this conference or do your staff meetings or be in classrooms, so that you can maintain where you are, everyone here is trying to get better.”
Gov. Nixon also spoke against S.B. 224, which would take away the opportunity for students filed under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status, or DACA status. DACA students are typically the children of undocumented immigrants.
“These are good kids,” he said. “They’ve worked hard, played by the rules, given back to their communities – and under current state law they are eligible for A+ Scholarships,” Nixon said. “Taking away the scholarships these students have already earned through years of academic achievement and community service is wrong. It’s not who we are.”