Money for Teachers Comes from Food Stamps

An update to a story we’ve been tracking since House passage Tuesday afternoon, as KXLH-TV hones in on the continuing debate between the political parties here in Montana following that vote.  Here’s what MT GOP Executive Director Bowen Greenwood told Marnee Banks:

“What I do know is that if you look past the teachers to the students they are supposed to be working with, those very students that those teachers are standing in front of are going to be paying the bill for this spending.They are going to be paying the bill for the rampant bailouts and the rampant so-called stimulus spending in this Congress.”

Banks also pointed out the fact that money for the teachers coming through this latest state government bailout measure, came at a cost to families who benefit from the food stamp program. 

Denise Juneau, MT Superintendent of Public Instruction, noted, “I do have mixed feelings about where the money is coming from. I feel like in these tough economic times there certainly should’ve been some concessions made. But again, at the end of the day, it (funding) coming to education hopefully will in the long term create a system where we will need fewer people on food stamps.”

But hey, the food stamp program doesn’t need that money anyway right?  Oh wait, here’s what The Montana Watchdog’s Michael Noyes reported on Monday:

The number of state residents receiving food stamps has increased every month for the past two years and is now at record levels. As of the end of July, the program paid out $15.31 million, with 118,174 total recipients, according to Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services Spokesman Chuck Council.

PRIOR POST AUG. 10th, 2010, UPDATED AUG. 11th, 2010 

As the LA Times is reporting Tuesday afternoon:

The House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a $26.1-billion package of state aid that would help keep nearly 140,000 teachers nationwide on the job and continue extra funding to provide healthcare services to low-income households during the recession.

Congressman Denny Rehberg (R-MT) voted against the measure, calling it another bailout:

“While Montana’s economy continues to hemorrhage jobs and our families struggle to pay their bills, Speaker Pelosi summoned Congress back to Washington to force a vote on yet another bailout for her home state of California, a state that has been unwilling to make the tough fiscal decisions necessary to balance its budget.  Montana has a balanced budget, so it’s beyond insulting to be forced to pay off California’s debts.  But that’s exactly what Speaker Pelosi is asking taxpayers to do.  Montana’s families know that you shouldn’t balance the checkbook with a credit card.  If your checking account is overdrawn, the painful reality is you’ve got to spend less.  There is no justification for what Nancy Pelosi is doing to taxpayers.”

Rehberg’s opponent Dennis McDonald says Rehberg’s vote is a vote against teachers:

“I am deeply disappointed that Rehberg, once again, has followed Tea Party marching orders and voted ’No’ to a very important education bill,” said Dennis McDonald, Montana’s Democratic candidate for Congress. “Rehberg and his extreme right-wing fringe continues to try and balance the budget on the backs of ordinary Montanans.”

On Wednesday morning, the news garnered statewide traction. Democratic Senators Jon Tester and Max Baucus both voted for the state government bailout.  Baucus told this to the Billings Gazette:

Baucus said Montana stands to receive $68 million from the bill, with more than $30 million going to school districts. The other $38 million would increase federal Medicaid payments to Montana, freeing up money for the state to use for other budget needs. 

Meanwhile, the Great Falls Tribune  went through great pains to interview everyone and their mother who hopes to get a chunk of the cash coming out of this latest big spending adventure in Congress.  School Superintendent Denise Juneau had this to say:

Montana has avoided drastic education cuts and teacher layoffs thus far, Juneau added, but “nobody can really predict how we’ll look when the (legislative) session meets. We want to stay ahead of the curve, and this $31 million is certainly going to help us.”

My first thought was this: “Wait a minute she wasn’t even planning on any teacher layoffs? So this 700 jobs saved number was literally just pulled out of thin air?”  

That thought appeared to be confirmed when I read what the Great Falls Public Schools Superintendent had to say:  

After last year’s stimulus bill passed, Great Falls Public Schools was able to add 28 jobs. Crawley said she hopes to add more positions with the latest emergency aid measure.   

So, as everyone else was forced to cut back, and as the private sector continues to shed hundreds of thousands of jobs- they used your tax dollars to increase the number of people on the public payroll.  And now, after another devestating jobs report, and the subsequent resignation of one of President Obama’s top economic advisors, they are using more of your ever shrinking tax dollars to put even more people on the public sector payroll. 

I wonder how this may impact Montana’s expected $400 million budget deficit potentially facing the Legislature this Fall?  The $38 million increase in federal Medicaid payments still doesn’t address the shortfall sure to hit Montana due to passage of the federal health care bill. 

Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal editorial raises another important question as to how this state government bailout could actually end up costing state government even more money:

Specifically, the bill stipulates that federal funds must supplement, not replace, state spending on education. Also, in each state, next year’s spending on elementary and secondary education as a percentage of total state revenues must be equal to or greater than the previous year’s level.

Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi did the math and figured out his state will be worse off. Mr. Barbour says the bill will force his state “to rewrite its current year [fiscal 2011] budget. Preliminary estimates of the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration show that we will now have to spend between $50-100 million of state funds—funds that must be taken away from public safety, human services, mental health and other state priorities and given to education—in order for an additional $98 million of federal funds to be granted to education. There is no justification for the federal government hijacking state budgets, but that is exactly what Congress has done.”

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