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Schools Need Money for Expanded Services… But State Revenue Shortfalls Require Cuts.

August 18, 2020

If and when schools reopen, they will require many more resources for students than they budgeted for in the pre-pandemic times. At the sometime, States are finding it impossible to find revenues to cover the pre-pandemic budgets of schools let alone the expanded budgets they will need to operate safely.

Some of the needs schools will face are related directly to the pandemic. Clearly schools will need more nurses to monitor the health of children in attendance and to support the staff assigned to screening the students on a periodic if not daily basis. They will also need to have more custodial staff to sanitize (as opposed to clean) the facilities. If children are transported on buses, schools will either need to buy more vehicles and hire more drivers or devise some kind of routing scheme that minimizes the loads on buses, and any “double routing” will require more time and more cost for bus drivers. Oh… and those buses, like the schools, will need to be sanitized on at least a daily basis. The facilities themselves will need to incorporate the kinds of shields we’ve become accustomed to in stores, which will be a minor expense compared to the HVAC systems changes that will be needed in older facilities in order to ensure that air circulates more freely. And those frequent air exchanges could add to the energy budgets of schools when the weather turns cold. Finally, schools will need to provide PPE for staff members and students. When national school administration organizations took out their calculators, they determined that reopening schools to meet these conditions would cost roughly $475 per student.

But, as Chalkbeat writer Ashleigh Garrison reported late last week, there will also be an urgent need for counseling at schools in New York City when they reopen, a need that NYC schools met by partnering with non-profits… and the non-profits, who get some revenue from States and some from donations, are facing extraordinary revenue problems.

The cold mathematical reality of accounting is going to compel state and local governments AND voters to make some very tough choices in the coming months. The reality is that taxing the billionaires will not provide enough money to solve this problem and any additional revenues that come from the authorization of the Federal Reserve to authorize borrowing will need to be paid back in the future. The reality is that those who are now living comfortably and have funds reserved for a rainy day might need to accept that THIS is that rainy day. I cannot smugly assert that those who were scrambling to make ends meet and now find themselves without work are “irresponsible” and, therefore, “undeserving” of help that I might be able to offer by paying more taxes or foregoing a COLA in my social security. Pretending that I will not be affected by the coming budget crisis is foolhardy and being unwilling to share in the sacrifice strikes me as selfish.

But here’s my dilemma as a taxpayer. I am completely confident that my voice will be heard at the local level and that I will be able to grasp the facts behind their decisions and the trade-offs they are making. I know that when the Town of Hanover and the local school district put their budgets together they will account for every dollar that is spent and offer a clear rationale for their spending decisions. I am somewhat confident that the State leaders will listen, but not at all certain that they will clarify where their dollars are being spent, or offer a clear rationale for why those expenditures are needed. In New Hampshire, I will find it difficult to support the rationale for cutting some programs when there are untapped revenue sources. When it comes to the Federal level, sadly, I have very limited confidence that my voice will be heard or that clear explanations for their decisions will be forthcoming…. and ultimately only the Federal government can solve this problem for they alone have the capacity to incur debt levels that will generate the funds state and local governments need. Oh, and they alone have the spending levels where cuts might yield substantial funds to help overcome this rainy day.

Lets hope that Congress will be able to break through this logjam to help with the short term revenue problem we face in the current fiscal years… and lets hope that voters are willing to make the sacrifices needed to restore our governments to functionality by accepting that THIS is the rainy day.


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