Using tomorrow’s dollars to pay for today’s education

ECM Editorial
ECM Publishers, Inc.

The solution to ending the state shutdown last month was accomplished, in part, by delaying payments to the schools.

That means the state will pay next year part of the revenue owed to the schools for operation this year. The state will shift the payment to the future but, the bills will still have to be paid now. So if you have the bills but not the revenue, what do you do? You spend what reserves you might have and then borrow. You pay interest on what you borrow and you promise that when the shift is ended you will pay back the loan. This year the schools will get 60 percent of their state revenue and next year they will get the other 40 percent.

As it plays out, next year the schools will get the 40 percent that was delayed, however, they will again only receive 60 percent of the state revenue they have coming that year and the other 40 percent will again be delayed. Only when the state comes up with the 40 percent to pay off the debt will the payments be back on schedule.

What if the state didn’t delay payments? Well, there are two actions: raise taxes or cut programs and services. To avoid raising taxes or cutting programs the state borrowed and used the schools as the vehicle to borrow.

Some folks argue that costs should have been reduced and programs cut. Frankly that sounds great unless it’s your child, now in school, who will experience the impact of those cuts. In fact it’s not just a school issue. There is always the possibility that once the cuts were made we would gladly welcome the taxes but who wants to sacrifice a year or two of their son’s or daughter’s education to a public tax reality check.

The delay in school payments from the state bought time, not much else. So what are we doing with this valuable time?  The fear is that the valuable time we made our schools borrow to buy will be filled with generalities, accusations, philosophies, personalities and endless political commercials.

Current polls indicate that there is some public support for both cuts and tax increases. Why not use this time to spell out the potential cuts in specifics and the potential tax increase, in specifics.

Borrowing is now a reality so before we get back to the “he said”  “she said” can we ask for a description of the choices we face? Can we ask the decision makers who closed down the state a few months ago to now stay at the table and work on solutions? Can we ask for enough sunlight on the process so we can see and hear the reality of the choices and the quality of the discussion?

Can we get a shared vision for Minnesota’s students and the beginning of a plan to achieve that vision? Can we tell the parents of Minnesota’s 800,000 students just how their children will be affected next year and each year thereafter? Can we listen to our parents’ reactions to those proposals before our views are set in stone?

We borrowed against their future to save their future. Now we have to make sure that loan and that risk aren’t squandered.

Editor’s note: This editorial is a product of the ECM Editorial Board. The Isanti County News is a part of ECM Publishers, Inc.