Text of Gov. Nixon’s remarks to Missouri K-12 public education l - KOAM TV 7

Text of Gov. Nixon’s remarks to Missouri K-12 public education leaders meeting today in Jefferson City


Text of Gov. Nixon’s remarks to Missouri K-12 public education leaders meeting today in Jefferson City

JEFFERSON CITY – Below are the prepared remarks given by Gov. Jay Nixon to Missouri K-12 public educations leaders meeting today in Jefferson City:

Good afternoon. Thank you for taking the time to join us here today and for your commitment and dedication to public education. I’m looking forward to a good dialogue with all of you at the mansion later this evening, but I wanted to take a few moments here beforehand to reflect on how far we’ve come... where we are today… and the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. 

But first I want to thank you. Early on in the summer, a reporter asked me whether I thought my veto of House Bill 253 would be sustained.  Given the makeup of the legislature… the trend we’d seen around the country toward these kinds of drastic tax cuts… and the multi-million dollar ad campaign financed by one very wealthy individual, a lot of folks figured we had an uphill fight on our hands.   But I said with 6 million Missourians on our side, I liked our odds.

And we knew that educators, administrators and board members - the people in this room - would be some of our most important partners in this effort. But quite frankly, I underestimated you.

In every corner of the state…from Gainesville to Grandview…St. Joe to St. Louis… Scotland County to Springfield… the response was overwhelming.

Teachers, board members and superintendents - irrespective of party - came forward and seized the opportunity to talk about the vital importance of public schools to our communities – and how House Bill 253 would have imperiled them. 

You formed a grassroots coalition of educators, administrators, business groups, first responders and faith leaders.  You turned out at public meetings by the hundreds.  You wrote letters and lit up phone lines. 

Together, you told legislators that the choice was clear. They could support education or they could support House Bill 253, but they could not do both. 

You spoke for our schools, for our families, for every Missourian. You spoke with one voice for our future.

And friends, your voices were heard.

In a bipartisan vote, sixty-seven Democrats and Republicans voted to sustain my veto of House Bill 253 – including fifteen who changed their original position.

It was a defining moment for our state and a victory that sent a clear message: here in Missouri, public education is a value.  And when the ideologues and extremists who don’t share that value try to defund our schools – we fight back…. And we win.

So on behalf of those six million Missourians – thank you.

With that victory, and your ongoing commitment to public education, you’ve helped protect a legacy that spans generations – a tradition of working to bend the arc of history toward greater opportunity for all Americans.

It was one of our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, who helped articulate the importance of public education and steer its course. For Jefferson, education was an essential pillar of a functioning democracy – because it would cultivate citizens with the virtues and talents worthy of running it.  And to ensure that advancement in our democracy was based on merit, rather than wealth, he felt just as strongly that public education, funded by the government, was the only means to achieving his ideal. It is better, he said, that citizens be educated at the common expense of all, than that the happiness of all should be confided to the weak or wicked.

As early as 1778, as the Revolutionary War raged, Jefferson called for the creation of a comprehensive public education system, from elementary school through college. Later, in a letter to his friend John Adams, Jefferson wrote that if this proposal had been passed by the first legislature following the Declaration of Independence – “our work” he said “would have been complete.”

Here in Missouri, the first effort to implement Jefferson’s ideas on public education came with the Geyer Act of 1839. Considered “the father” of Missouri’s public school system, Henry Geyer had moved to St. Louis after serving as an U.S. Army Captain in the War of 1812 and later became a state legislator.  His bill called for various state and local school funds, for the organization of school districts, and a state university.

The Geyer Act was never fully implemented… and it would take many more years, and many fits and starts, before our public school system developed into the one we all recognize today… But Jefferson’s belief that you needed schools to cultivate good citizens became woven into the very fabric of our young nation – and our state. 

On the walls of the Governor’s office in the Missouri State Capitol are four murals by Gari Melchers. One of them depicts a well-to-do St. Louisan named Susan Blow. While travelling in Germany in the mid-1800s, she took note of the positive impact kindergarten classes were having on children there.

She brought these ideas back home to Missouri and began the country’s first kindergarten program in St. Louis in 1873. Within six years, more than 50 other schools had started a kindergarten program, and from right here in the Show-Me State, a national education movement was born.

Seventy years later, the Greatest Generation would return from the Second World War, after liberating tens of millions from the grip of tyranny.  At that point, post-secondary education was considered a privilege of the upper classes.  The G.I. Bill – shepherded through Congress by Missouri Senator Champ Clark – changed everything.

Over the next decade, millions of Americans got the opportunity to go on to college – an opportunity many of their parents never had. The number of degrees awarded by U.S. colleges and universities more than doubled between 1940 and 1950.  Over the next half century, the percentage of Americans with a college degree quintupled.

They became engineers and entrepreneurs; scholars and Supreme Court Justices; presidents and preschool teachers. They bought homes, started families, and launched companies -- creating the modern middle class and powering a postwar economic boom that made the United States the driver of the global economy and the undisputed leader of the free world.

I make these points not to relive the past – but to shed light on the joined responsibility we have in the present, and to illuminate the path ahead to our future.  

For centuries, our state and nation have understood that to build strong citizens, you must build strong schools.  To teach children well, you must teach them early. And to grow the economy and strengthen the middle class, there is no better investment you can make than in education.

That is how we built the greatest country in the world.  That is the legacy we have inherited... and the proud tradition we must pass on.

Today, we stand together at another important moment for education in our state.  This summer’s battle to sustain my veto of House Bill 253 has been won – but our fight must continue.

The misguided economic theories on which House Bill 253 was based are still being touted.  Its supporters remain in the state House and Senate. And its financial backers have millions more to spend.

And in Washington – as folks on the far ends of the ideological spectrum yell louder and louder, the space for a rational dialogue gets smaller and smaller.  Lost in the din are not only the fundamental values that unite us – but also the tremendous diversity that strengthens us.

Here in this room – we’ve got outdoorsmen and urbanites; hunters and theater buffs; Royals fans and Cardinals fans. We come from many different backgrounds and have plenty of disagreements.  Try to separate us into two camps and you’ll miss the rich diversity that makes this state great.

I grew up in De Soto, and like most small towns, the public school was the center of the community.  Dad was Mayor and mom was the president of the local school board.  My schoolmates were the kids of doctors and mechanics, farmers and lawyers – folks from different parties and all walks of life.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but that’s where I learned about what community is really all about.

We all dreaded pop quizzes from Mr. Pinturf… We all rooted hard for the Dragons on Friday nights…we all recited the pledge of allegiance each morning… and we all learned about the history of our great nation.  And we did it together.

But as we’ve seen in Washington, DC lately – it’s easier to create chaos, than embrace complexity.

It’s easier to sell a magical quick fix to our economy than it is to walk the long road to recovery. It’s easier to play politics than to tackle the substance of a policy.

And it’s easier to point out what’s wrong with our schools than it is to work each day to improve them.

Friends, we’ve got the harder task. But today as we stand on the shoulders of all who have fought for the opportunities we enjoy – it’s our responsibility to do that hard work to leave our schools – and our state -- better than we found them.

Like I said, we’re a diverse state… and in each of your communities, you face different challenges.  But in this – we are united:

We believe that all children should have the opportunity to live up to their God-given potential.

We believe that teaching is an honorable profession that should be respected and rewarded – not ridiculed.

We believe that the way to improve our schools is by lifting them up to reach higher standards, not tearing them down.

We believe that if our students aren’t prepared, our economy will not thrive.

And we believe that public funds should be used for public schools.

These are the principles we’ve fought to defend… and the foundation on which we must build. 

Make no mistake, there will be other unaffordable, ill-conceived tax bills… there will be other radical experiments masked as “reforms,” and plenty of politicians who think they can score points by attacking our schools.

This summer, we showed that when Missourians are engaged and understand the policy – they see beyond the politics. 

We showed that when we work together – professors and preschool teachers, coaches and college presidents – a coalition of the reasonable can prevail, and the rational center holds.

But in winning today’s battles, we can’t lose sight of the broader challenge before us:  making sure every Missouri student leaves our classrooms as a citizen – ready to succeed in college and the career of his or her choice.

I’m proud of the progress we’ve made by working together toward this shared goal. Even during the height of the recession, while many other states slashed funding for public schools, here in Missouri we made support for our K-12 classrooms our top priority. 

We added 266 schools to our A-Plus program, so that nearly every student in the state who works hard… plays by the rules… and gives back to their communities has a chance to earn an A-Plus scholarship and attend community college tuition free. And today, Missouri’s high school graduation rate is now the eighth highest in the nation.

But friends, we all know we’ve got more work to do.

We need more students entering college without having to take some kind of remedial course.  We need more students taking – and passing – AP exams.  And we need far more students scoring at or above proficient on standardized MAP tests.

Those GIs who came back nearly 70 years ago to build the American Dream fought to make sure their grandchildren and great-grandchildren would have more opportunities, and a better life than they’d had – not to see them fall behind.

Just as it was back then, a good education should always be the ticket to a rewarding career… to economic independence… and to a lifetime of financial security.  And securing that brighter tomorrow for our kids requires strategic investments from us, today.

Through some very lean years – my administration had to make some tough choices, and so did you.  Now, with our perfect Triple-A credit rating intact and our economy picking up steam, we have a unique opportunity to invest the dividends of that responsible fiscal management in our children. 

That is why my budget for Fiscal Year 2015 will include a real investment in our K-12 classrooms… and make a significant down payment on my commitment to fully fund the foundation formula before the end of my term.

And with higher funding, come higher expectations.

In a way our founders could not have imagined -- the competition we’re in is global… and to win it, we’ll need to raise our game. Not only with more resources… but clearer goals… higher expectations… greater accountability… and a commitment to excellence.

Let me talk just a moment about what that global competition looks like.  In South Korea, 47 percent of eighth graders score at the very highest levels in math, compared to just 7 percent here in the U.S.  In Canada, already 56 percent of adults have a college or university credential.  And in Finland, teachers are selected from the top 10 percent of graduates… and thousands compete each year for those coveted slots.

Just as the information economy is demanding more of our students, we’ve got to demand more of ourselves…and intensify our efforts to improve outcomes and accountability at every level.

·         We know that kids who attend high quality pre-kindergarten do better in school – and in life. So we’re going to make sure children in Missouri Start Smart by expanding access to early childhood education.

·         We need more students taking dual credit and advanced placement classes – to transform the senior year of high school from a coast to graduation day into a rigorous training ground for going to college or beginning a career.

·         Our classrooms need to challenge and inspire with hands-on learning experiences and innovative curricula like those offered by Project Lead the Way and our own Innovation High Schools.

·         And we will continue to implement robust accountability measures, including the Common Core standards and our new MSIP-5 system.  

·         These are tough, but vital measures that will help us build on our strengths, and improve on our weaknesses. And they are only the beginning of what we must aim to achieve.

We should not – we cannot – allow those who don’t believe in public education be the only ones who talk about the need to improve it. 

We must take on that mantle. We must embrace that challenge.

We’ve got to believe in education so much that we want to make it better. 

My mom held these beliefs with conviction. For years, she taught special education in public schools and eventually worked her way up to a position in administration. But when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, instead of retiring, she went back the classroom so she could spend the time she had left with those kids. It added months – and immeasurable joy – to her life.

I’m sure many of you have stories like that.  Of how the simple act of sharing knowledge, of seeing that first spark of understanding in a child -- like turning on a light in the darkness – illuminates something fundamental, and connects us with what really matters: the work we do, the love we show to one another, the legacy we leave to our kids.

That’s why we’re here.

After I was re-elected last year to a second term, I took some time to read the biographies of all 54 other Missouri governors In addition to providing endless anecdotes to inflict on family and friends – the exercise made one thing crystal clear. 

You don’t get to choose the important decisions you’ll have to make, or plan for every challenge you’ll face. In this job, history comes to you.

Friends, history has come to us. 

And it’s given us a unique opportunity… indeed, a responsibility… to honor our proud tradition of public education and leave a legacy that will endure long after we are gone. 

Together, we can ensure Missouri is always a place where schools have the resources they need to spark curiosity and build character. 

A place where we raise our goals higher, and help our kids dream even bigger.         

A place where students are not simply motivated to work, but inspired to innovate and invent.

A place where a good job is waiting for every Missouri student who studies hard and follows their dreams.

That’s how we will fulfill the promise made by our forbearers so many generations ago…and build a brighter and more prosperous future for our students, and our state.

Thank you for your leadership… for your service… and for your continued support in this effort.

Thank you and God bless.


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