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The economy is so bad that Massachusetts is spending this year much of the federal stimulus money it had hoped to have two years from now. The money was made available from the federal government for schools.
By and large, school districts are reporting that they've managed to get through this year, and they'll manage next year, but they're worried about what will happen two years from now.
Here's why : The federal stimulus money the state has received for education is supposed to last three years. It's supposed to get schools in the state through fiscal years 2009, 2010 and 2011. But instead of spending the money over three years, Massachusetts is spending almost all of it-- 90 percent-- over the next two years.
"Clearly," said Michael Widmer of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, "the state's situation has become so desperate this fiscal year, which is ending on June 30, that what the administration has done is to take this education stimulus money and advance it, instead of spending it in fiscal year 2010 or 11."
Widmer said the implication is that we're going to run out of this money in fiscal 2009 and 2010, and find ourselves with virtually no stimulus money for education from the federal government in fiscal 2011. The economy may be recovering slowly, he says, but the state's finances are going to fall off a cliff.
Massachusetts is getting almost a billion dollars in money for education to spend over three years. It's already spent more than half of that this year, and it will use up another $300 million or so next year. So by 2011, just over 10 percent of the education money, $111 million, will be left.
Standing in an elevator as he was leaving an information technology conference in Cambridge on Wednesday, Gov. Deval Patrick said he's concerned about the situation, and it's obviously one the state wouldn't have put itself in if it didn't have to. "We're in the same position many states have found themselves in now that the fiscal hole has been deeper than anticipated," he said. "But we did that so we would have to go less deep into the state's own rainy day fund, so it was a balance that was struck."
Asked what happens in 2011, Patrick said, "Well, we have other plans and other strategies we're going to have to pursue."
The Patrick administration expects the state's economy to revive at the end of this year, but the governor says that can't be the basis for our fiscal plan. As for other plans to fill the budget gap expected in 2011?
"Believe me," Patrick said, "we're thinking about working on those ideas all the time. We are constantly in search of further efficiencies, which I think is our responsibility in bad times as well as in good times."
What will be left in 2011 is a huge hole in education spending that the state will have to fill somehow, either by taking the money from somewhere else, or raising taxes, or making drastic cuts in the schools.
This program aired on June 11, 2009.
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