By Susan Redden
Proposals by Gov. Jay Nixon to increase spending for education and to expand the Medicaid program in Missouri attracted support Monday from several Joplin area officials.
A budget that would increase education spending by $150 million was proposed by the governor in his annual State of the State address. Nixon also called for expanding Medicaid as allowed under federal health care reforms and for streamlining the state’s economic incentive programs.
A plan to add $34 million to the state’s budget for higher education was welcomed by Bruce Speck, president of Missouri Southern State University, and Alan Marble, president of Crowder College.
Both presidents, who had met with the governor earlier, pointed out that the increase would be the first after several years of flat funding or funding cuts.
Speck said he was pleased with the governor’s plan to tie the funding to performance, saying the practice had been successfully vetted in other states.
“It’s a positive for higher education,” he said.
Marble also praised the governor’s plan to expand to all public high schools the A+ Scholarship program, which covers costs for high school students to attend community college.
The governor also proposed spending $17 million more for early childhood education and a total of $100 million more for K-12 education to fund more teachers, equipment and a longer school year.
Nixon’s remarks “show he’s been listening carefully to educators from across the state,” said C.J. Huff, superintendent of Joplin schools.
“Research shows the need for further early childhood education as our best opportunity” for additional gains in education in the state, he said.
Huff said increased funding also is important to ensure that schools can maintain their buildings, and provide and maintain the needed technology infrastructure.
“The age of school facilities across the state is really showing, and it’s a real challenge to come up with the funding to bring them up to modern standards, so that’s welcome,” he said.
Though Nixon’s call for expanding Medicaid was criticized in the Republican response by House Speaker Tim Jones, it was supported by Joplin area hospital officials.
“The expansion is very important, not just for health systems, but for individuals in Missouri,” said Paula Baker, CEO of Freeman Health System in Joplin. “These are working people who are trying to carry their own weight but don’t make enough money to access the health care they need.”
She said the Medicaid expansion was intended, under federal health care reforms, to offset “some of the many reimbursement cuts that hospitals are facing.”
“So it would be helpful to hospitals, but it would also be helpful to people who aren’t getting preventative care or screenings and then end up at the emergency room when their illness has escalated to a serious condition,” she said.
Mike Peters, a vice president with Sisters of Mercy Health System, agreed, saying the hospital system “is supportive of the governor’s position” on Medicaid.
“We are seeing a reduction in our Medicare payments,” he said. “Those cuts were to be offset by the expansion of Medicaid. Barring that expansion, hospitals will receive the cuts from Medicare, but not see a reduction of uninsured patients in the emergency room.”
Nixon also touched on efforts to attract more jobs to the state.
More funding for higher education would help to make sure that workers have top-rate skills, said Jasen Jones, executive director of the Workforce Investment Board of Southwest Missouri.
Rob O’Brian, president of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, also noted the importance of education in economic development. And, he said, reforms to the state’s economic development incentive programs should include changes “to make them more focused and beneficial to business.”