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Nixon vetoes bill in clash over elementary and secondary education funding


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Gov. Jay Nixon announced Wednesday he would veto legislation that would redefine the parameters to fully fund the foundation formula.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education projects that SB 586, sponsored by Sen. Jay Wasson, R-Springfield, would lower the amount of money needed to fully fund the formula by $456 million.

Nixon believes this amounts to a $456 million cut to elementary and secondary education in the state of Missouri.

“This cheapening of the foundation formula results in a broken promise to our local schools and the students they educate and cannot receive my approval,” Nixon said in a statement. “By giving future governors and legislators a passing grade for a lower score, Senate Bill 586 would provide cover for legislators to turn their backs on our local schools by passing even more reckless tax breaks that will further erode funding for education and require local taxpayers to shoulder more of the financial burden to provide our children with a quality education.”

He summed up his thoughts on the bill in a more “festive” way on Twitter.

Assistant Minority Floor Leader Gail McCann-Beatty, D-Kansas City, agreed with the governor’s assessment and said it was a sign that Republicans had not kept “their promises to Missouri’s children.”

“By vetoing this bill, the governor has made it clear that we will not surrender in the battle to improve public education,” she said. “House Democrats call on our Republican colleagues to reject their past failures and instead join with us to do whatever is necessary to finally fulfill our commitments to Missouri’s children.”

However, while the measure was roundly rejected by House Democrats, the Senate passed the bill unanimously at the beginning of March.

Sen. Jay Wasson
Sen. Jay Wasson

Wasson says that the governor’s numbers are inaccurate. He explained that when the General Assembly first devised the foundation formula, they factored increased revenues from gambling that would help fund it to the tune of $75 million a year. Wasson went on to say that $456 million gap Nixon cites comes from the $75 million a year over the course of the last seven years.

Essentially, Wasson believes the money Nixon says is needed to fully fund the formula is “phantom money” and he rejects the claim that his bill is a cut for elementary education.

“We’re never going to have four or five hundred million dollars in a year to throw at education,” he said.

Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis, has been extremely vocal in her displeasure with many of Nixon’s policies after the Ferguson protests. She criticized Nixon on his veto because the bill also has provisions to assist charter schools’ early childhood education programs. She believes that poor children who benefit most from early childhood education would suffer the most from his veto.

She also said the governor’s practice of withholding money from schools made his veto of SB 586 ring hollow.

“For some school districts, it meant $150,000, and for other school districts, like Ferguson-Florissant, it meant millions of dollars,” she said. “So as he is making the argument this is taking away millions of dollars, he has a board of education… allow for withholds for urban districts. He’s being totally hypocritical.”

Wasson believes this bill is a way to avoid the hassle of coming up with a new funding formula for statewide education. He fears that if the gap continues to grow because of unrealistic expectations to fully fund it when the money to do that is not coming in, then the foundation formula will fail and a new formula will have to be created.

“The point is this is a good formula,” he said. “Every single school entity out there has said this is a fair and a good formula. What I’m trying to do is save that formula.”

Wasson noted that he expected the bill to be taken up either this week or next.

Updated 4:36 p.m., May 4, 2016: The bill was taken up in the Senate Wednesday, and the veto was overridden 25-7.

Updated 2:28 p.m., May 5, 2016: The House has also overridden the veto.