As expected, Governor Bev Perdue’s State of the State speech was long on general themes but short on details. Still, Perdue did create a buzz when she promised to increase per pupil state spending for the state’s public schools. A tough task? Let’s just say she has a little help. First, $1.4 billion in federal stimulus money for education will help – a lot — even if some of the money is over two years. A portion of the money is designated for federal programs. Still, the stimulus legislation gives the states some discretion in determining how fiscal stabilization monies are spent. Perdue will be able to use the monies to not only restore cuts but also possibly to increase budgets. More details will likely be forthcoming when the Governor’s budget proposal is released. Perdue may welcome the federal money now. However, it also works to delay tough choices. Finding state money next year to replace federal money may be an even more challenging task. Second, the governor also benefits from a demographic quirk. Legislation requiring many kids to start school later has actually helped produce an expected decline in ADM membership. Projected ADM enrollment in public schools is expected to decline about 11,600 in fall of 2009.
Perdue earns kudos for her efforts to bring greater transparency to state government. Let’s hope her enthusiasm for openness and accountability extends to public schools. There is no shortage of programs that if given a little sunlight and scrutiny could produce substantial savings.