Two More Republican Governors Follow Perry’s Lead, Look To Divert Emergency Education Funds

Gov. Mike Rounds (R-SD)

Gov. Mike Rounds (R-SD)

After the Senate finally approved $10 billion in emergency funding meant to preserve education jobs, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) made known his intent to “look for ways around” actually spending his state’s share on education. However, a provision in the bill, inserted by Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), has thus far prevented Perry from funneling the funding to some other parts of the budget or squirreling it away in the state’s Rainy Day Fund, as he has done with previous emergency education money.

But it seems that Perry has inspired some copycats, as both Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri (R) and South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds (R) want to divert the education funding into other parts of their budget:

In Rhode Island, Gov. Donald Carcieri wants to claw back $32.9 million in state aid to school districts to help the state close a $320 million deficit for the coming fiscal year…”We can use these funds elsewhere in the budget,” said Amy Kempe, the governor’s spokeswoman…South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds is planning a similar move. He intends to reduce state aid by the $26.3 million that districts will receive from the federal government and spend it on other state needs.

Rhode Island educators are not taking Carcieri’s proposal well, as they had hoped to use the funds to fill 450 sports that had been vacated due to the Great Recession (through layoffs and retirements). The personnel would help the state provide crucial services like full day kindergarten. “In tough times, every penny helps and these are a lot of pennies,” said Robert Walsh Jr., director of the Rhode Island chapter of the National Education Association.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) has also said that he’d like to save the money provided by Congress until 2012, to make his budget in that year look better (conveniently, when he may be running for president). Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R), meanwhile, diverted stimulus funds meant for the classroom to other purposes, prompting a backlash from state educators.

It’s understandable that states are looking for any way to bolster their budgets, as the recesion has severely reduced tax revenues and most states, constitutionally, can’t have a deficit. There is also some flexibility in terms of how the funding can be spent, as in limited circumstances it can be used for school construction or improvement (if certain criteria are met). But the point of the funding was not to fill holes in non-education portions of state budgets, to make these governors look more fiscally responsible than they actually are.