Governor changes course and gives $7.5 million to schools

Governor Nixon reversed course on education budget cuts Thursday morning and gave $7.5 million to Missouri's public schools.The amount equals a little more than 10% of the $70 million he withheld from schools when the budget year began in July. The money can be used immediately and will go towards school busing and transportation.Nixon's budget director told The Associated Press of the decision to provide the money shortly after the AP reported that the state's cash balances were improving and that some lawmakers were questioning Nixon's continuation of the school-funding cut.Lawmakers questioned Nixon's motivation to free up the money since the decision was made just as lawmakers were holding a press conference urging him to do so. It's a start, House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan Silvey told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It's a shame that we had to have a joint press conference to get the governor to act in the interest of our school kids, but, you know, it's an encouraging start. If revenue continues to be up, hopefully by the end of the year, those districts will be made whole.Silvey has questioned whether Nixon can constitutionally continue to withhold money from schools. Budget director Linda Luebbering said Nixon decided to provide the money before lawmakers scheduled the news conference. But earlier in the day Luebbering said the cuts were still prudent because Missouri revenues are still forecasted to fall short of the original budget.However, The Kansas City Starr reported Luebbering said the additional funding suddenly became available because state revenues have been stronger than anticipated in recent months.Figures from the state treasurer's office provided to The Associated Press show Missouri had $484 million in its general revenue fund at the end of December, which is the halfway point of Missouri's fiscal year. That was up 57 percent from the previous year. And it was more than enough to offset $300 million of spending cuts made by Nixon when the budget year started.Lawmakers said schools could start using the funds immediately.Earlier this month Nixon's administration told departments to assume any programs cut this year will remain gone next year.Nixon has tried to put the best face he could on the cuts to public education. In January 2010 he announced bare bones funding for public schools and said: "Until the revenue picture changes, most folks in government understand that getting the job done with newer resources is a given."Silvey, R-Kansas City, has been outspoken about Missouri's budget woes. He has questioned whether Nixon can constitutionally continue to withhold money from schools and has had a sign posted outside his capitol door asking visitors if they were there seeking more money. It then asked: have you lost your mind?What do you think about Gov. Nixon freeing up the money? Do you think it was enough? Do you think you have a better idea for what lawmakers should do for our budget?

(The Associated Press contributed to this story)