Candidates running for Missouri Governor participated Friday in a forum in Branson. The debate was part of a Missouri Press Association convention.

Eric Greitens

Eric Greitens

The candidates included Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster, Republican and former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens, Independent Lester Turilli Jr., Libertarian Cisse Spragins and Don Fitz for the Green Party.

Several topics were covered, including education, labor union issues, expanding Medicaid and ways to fund Missouri’s infrastructure needs.

Koster says Missouri is missing out on about $2 billion annually by not accepting federal funding that would expand Medicaid.

“It will create 40,000 new jobs and improve the health care of about 300,000 Missourians,” says Koster.

He says Missouri is losing a rural hospital about every eight months and has been for about the last three years.

“We lost the hospital at Osceola. We lost the hospital at Mt. Vernon, at Springfield at Farmington and at Reynolds County. It’s because the economics of healthcare have changed and unfortunately, unless we adapt to the new reality, we will in all likelihood continue to lose ground in rural healthcare across this state,” says Koster.

Greitens says Obamacare is full of broken promises.

“They told people you could keep your doctor, well you couldn’t. They told people your premiums would go down and in fact, they went up. In states that have expanded Obamacare, they’re actually going bankrupt,” says Greitens.

Koster says Missouri must fully fund the formula used for Missouri’s schools. He says the foundation formula has been underfunded for many years.

Attorney General Chris Koster/AG office

Attorney General Chris Koster/AG office

“Higher education in the state, investment in it has been cut by 40 percent. The K-12 budget, the foundation formula itself, has seen about a 25 percent decline,” says Koster.

He says Missouri’s greatest economic driver is education.

“If I’m governor of this state, every child is going to go to school five days a week,” says Koster. “We’re going to raise teacher salaries and raise teacher quality at the same time so that we put in standards so that the best in the brightest are in our schools teaching children.”

Greitens says educational opportunities for Missouri children must improve.

“Missouri spends about the national average on our kids in schools, but we are 40th in teacher pay and 47th in starting teacher pay. We need to make sure that money actually makes it to the teachers and the kids, that it actually makes it into the classrooms.”

He says Missouri must fight against big government programs and let teachers and parents design an education system for students.

Greitens says student achievement must improve in Missouri’s K through 12 schools, especially among minorities.

“Only 2.7 percent of African-American kids in Missouri graduate from high school having passed one single advanced placement class. It’s the third worst rate in the nation,” says Greitens.

Recent polling shows Koster ahead of Greitens by about 16 points.

Due to term limits Governor Jay Nixon (D) is serving his final year.