Missouri puts money toward education, disaster relief

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JEFFERSON CITY - The $8.7 million that Volkswagen has been forced to pay Missouri after a nationwide cheating scandal was uncovered will be put to use immediately. Friday morning, Governor Nixon announced Missouri's share of the settlement will be put toward school transportation, biodiesel subsidies, as well as Missouri's State Emergency Management Agency for Task Force 1 to support response to disasters. 

Here's a look at where the money will go:

  • $4.5 million -- public school transportation, k-12
  • $3 million -- biodiesel subsidies
  • $1.2 million -- Task Force 1

Sarah Potter, the communications director for Missouri's Department of Secondary Education, said she has mixed feelings after finding out about the additional funding Nixon is putting toward school transportation. 

"It's a very small amount, but every little bit counts," Potter said.

According to Potter, the current transportation appropriations cover roughly 17 percent of total transportation expenses for school districts in Missouri. Rep. Caleb Rowden (R-Columbia) said he approves of Nixon's decision to put the funds to use right away. 

"I'm glad he's releasing the funds, I think they're going toward good places," Rowden said. "The transportation specifically for K-12 is important for rural districts in my area that have had concerns about those withholds. I think we're headed in the right direction, and as long as he's the governor it's his responsibility."

Boone County Fire Chief Scott Olsen is the sponsoring agency chief for Missouri's Task Force 1. He said the task force has been fighting for the funding for nearly two years, and it's a need that had to be filled.

"I was very elated. Costs add up quickly [when disaster hits]," Olsen said. 

Olsen pointed to the disastrous tornado that hit Joplin in 2011 as the primary reason the task force needs this kind of funding. When the tornado hit, the task force sent as many volunteers as it could, and many of the costs came out-of-pocket due to a lack of funding. Olsen said these new funds will allow Task Force 1 to not only take care of itself, but also rescue more people when disaster strikes. 

"This will make it easier to get people to perform very important tasks when we need it most," he said. 

The money will predominantly go toward paying members of the task force for their efforts. Olsen pointed to fuel, meals, hotels and broken equipment as the other main expenses the task force faces. 

Rowden said while he appreciates governors willingness this time around to address key issues facing Missouri families, he doesn't agree with Nixon's overall handling of the budget. 

"In the last four years, whenever there were withholds that had to happen, I think he took from places that would make the most noise, cause the most pain, be the most egregious when they were reported, when there were plenty of other places where withholds could have come from. A lot of republicans and democrats have been critical of those withholds at times." 

Rep. Stephen Webber (D-Columbia), Rowden's opponent for Missouri's 19 district senate race, released a statement to KOMU:

"Broken promises by Republicans in Jefferson City have led to cuts at our local schools and shortchanged students. Governor Nixon's efforts to restore those cuts are a step in the right direction. If our students are to succeed, we must elect lawmakers who prioritize serving our community over special interests."