Tim Pawlenty, Through the Looking Glass

Humpty1‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty told Alice in Lewis Carrol’s Through the Looking Glass, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.'” In a similar manner, Governor Pawlenty casts himself as a heroic defender of education, promising no cuts to K-12 funding, while at the same time making “shifts” in funding that, in fact, will decrease the total amount that all schools have to spend on education.

Let’s see if we can make this really simple:

First, Pawlenty said he would NOT slash K-12 school aid. He promised to heroically keep schools safe from budget cuts, and balance the state budget by cutting other programs — like healthcare and higher ed.

Second, Pawlenty said he will shift more than a billion dollars in state payments to school districts. Instead of paying schools the money when it is due, he will delay payment of more than a quarter of the money into the next year. That means that more than a billion dollars will stay in the state coffers in Fiscal Year 2010, showing on the state books and making the state’s budget appear balanced.

Third, school districts will have to borrow to pay their bills – since they can’t shift payments for heating oil, school buses, or teacher salaries into the next year.

Borrowing means paying interest. Say that the state owes $1,000 in aid to a school. T-Paw says it will only pay $730 this year. The school has to borrow $270, and pay interest on the loan.

The bottom line: Instead of spending all of the budgeted money on teachers or buses, school districts instead will pay large sums as interest to financial institutions. That’s more money for lenders, less money for books or teachers or buses. So, without actually “cutting” school budgets, Humpty Dumpty has made sure that schools will have less money.

MPR reports on the concrete effects in one district:

Sauk Rapids-Rice, near St. Cloud, plans to spend $120,000 just on interest from its loan. Superintendent Greg Vandal said that money could pay for another kindergarten teacher — but instead, Rice School will have just two teachers for 70 kindergartners.

The same MPR report notes that charter schools may take an even bigger hit than public schools. Under state law, they can’t levy taxes and can’t own property, so they may not look like good loan risks.

Of course, Pawlenty’s “shift” accomplishes only a temporary fix to the state budget deficit. What will he do next year?

The Red Queen shook her head, ‘You may call it “nonsense” if you like,’ she said, ‘but I’VE heard nonsense, compared with which that would be as sensible as a dictionary!’ Chapter 2, Through the Looking Glass

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