Anybody who’s ever gone through a period of his or her life — or observed one in somebody close — during which he or she made the mistake of finding debt so easy as to avoid a necessary reduction in household spending will recognize what’s going on with the current push for new funding for school repairs. Your budget seems impossible to manage without the debt, because unforeseeable yet inevitable expenses have a way of coming up. You can’t know that the fridge is about to go or a health issue is cropping up out of sight or a loss of income is looming, but some of the expenses that can occur will occur over a given time period.
So, you spend money that ought to go into maintenance or savings on other things that seem justified at the time, and you wind up with the sort of thinking that Rhode Island’s young general treasurer, Seth Magaziner, exhibits when he “outlines funding options for school-facilities overhaul” in a Linda Borg article in the Providence Journal:
“I’ll argue that K-12 has been underfunded for a long time,” Magaziner said. “We haven’t had a K-12 bond [for school repairs] since 1984.”
One way to pay for these repairs is for the state to float a statewide bond to fund the pay-as-you-go system. He said a recent analysis projected that the state has the capacity to borrow $1.2 billion over 10 years.
When the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity developed its District Impact Model for Educational Scholarships (DIMES) tool for assessing the budgetary and enrollment effects of school policy, we found that school choice would free up hundreds of millions, even billions, of dollars in government spending on education, depending how the policy was designed. At the same time, school choice would draw more investment from parents and others into education in Rhode Island.
Yet, we hear about billions of dollars of new funding that the state, cities, and towns will have to find in order to repair or replace neglected buildings, because public officials don’t want to change how things are done and don’t want to revisit their priorities to find the money in existing revenue.