"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

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Monday, November 8, 2010

This Fiscal Year's Lesson Plan from DESE: How to Spend Money that Doesn't Exist

The poor economic climate is affecting Missouri's revenue collections. Missouri Watchdog reports:

Although general revenue collections are increasing year-over-year and total spending by Missouri continues to rise, revenue for the state is down nearly $1 billion from a decade ago, new research finds.

“This general revenue decline is historic,” Missouri Budget Project writes. “Between 1975 and 2001 Missouri had no years of falling revenue. In the last decade, revenue has dropped in four years.”

Fiscal year 2010 was 9 percent lower than 2009 and more than 13 percent below 2000, when adjusted for inflation, according to the public policy organization.

Missouri Budget Project is estimating Missouri will face a budget shortfall in fiscal 2012, starting on July 1, of $822 million, although revenue is rebounding.

In the meantime, while we are waiting for that revenue to rebound, here is a common sense approach to spending money the state doesn't have:

“The state government in Missouri should view the low revenues as an impetus to reform its expenditures,” said
Christine Harbin, an analyst at the Show-Me Institute, a free market think tank. ”By living within its means during the present, the state government will be less likely to create or exacerbate budget problems in the future.”

Legislators told us last year that the coming fiscal year would be worse, and it appears as if they are correct. We questioned where the money was coming from to fulfill the mandates in Race to the Top; it was projected to cost $400 Million and the most we could have expected from the Federal Department of Education was $250 Million. We were very concerned about the underfunded mandate, and while we didn't receive Race to the Top, we are now instituting "Vision for Missouri Public Education".

We have written on this "educational vision" many times before, detailing how the goals of this new program are strikingly similar to Race to the Top. The taxpayers and legislators have no idea how much these programs are going to cost. This is an educated guess on my part, but if the goals are similar, and Chris Nicastro (as stated in the original RTTT proposal) is determined to implement these goals even if there is not adequate funding, we are in trouble in Missouri. She seems to be describing the situation we currently find ourselves in with a new program which has no funding from RTTT coffers:

Implementation of the reform plan described in this proposal will not stop if the State does not win Race to the Top funding. Missouri has a long tradition of fostering innovative improvements in education, and this will not change. Race to the Top funds will allow the State to move forward aggressively and comprehensively in adopting these reforms. In the absence of Race to the Top funding, the State and its partners would continue moving forward but will do so over a longer time-period and, in some areas, will have to adopt a more incremental approach. DESE would nudge LEAs toward the goals and implementation of data- driven decision making, but instituting the radical improvements in infrastructure and capacity envisioned would require more time and face challenging obstacles. (pg. 40)

This State Board seems to be intent on making changes even if it plunges taxpayers and the state further into debt and federal control of public education. Does facing "challenging obstacles" include implementing radical improvements with no money budgeted or available for such improvements? Does that make sense?

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