I would send this letter directly to petition signers on Change.org, but that website is misbehaving just when we need it most. Therefore...

Dear Friends of Education in South Dakota:

We lost... but not by much.

Over 2300 of you signed my online petition to stop HB 1234, Governor Dennis Daugaard's package of education "reforms", and convene a task force to study K-12 education in South Dakota. Many more of you contacted your legislators by phone, e-mail, and in person to challenge their fantasy that HB 1234 was somehow "the people's plan." Thank you for speaking up for our teachers, our schools, and our students.

On Wednesday, the South Dakota House approved HB 1234 on a 36-33 vote. Your efforts and the protests of thousands of other South Dakotans persuaded six legislators who had previously voted for HB 1234 to vote against it yesterday. That would have been enough to defeat the bill, but Governor Daugaard waged a full-court press of arm-twisting and horse-trading to save his bill. The Governor persuaded two legislators who had previously voted no to change their votes yesterday and support the bill.

HB 1234 now goes to the desk of Governor Daugaard, who is sure to sign into law this package of destructive education policies.

The Governor and the legislators supporting HB 1234 are claiming that the bill is completely different from what we protested, that they amended it to address every concern we raised. That is not true. The bill not only keeps merit pay as the state's preferred default policy but extends the reach of merit pay, mandating that every school give merit bonuses to high-ranking math and science teachers. The bill still eliminates continuing contract; it simply delays the end until 2016.

Most importantly, HB 1234's supporters still ignore the fundamental fact that they have raced ahead with their solution without identifying the problem we are trying to solve. What's wrong with South Dakota's schools that requires this drastic policy change? No one has explained that. No one can explain that. And no one backing HB 1234 wants to say that... because they don't know.

There are three things you can do now to continue the fight against HB 1234 and the harm it will do to our schools:

1. Many people are talking about referring HB 1234 to a public vote. That may happen, if citizens gather nearly 16,000 signatures by 90 days after the end of the legislative session. If such a petition drive is launched, you can help circulate petitions in your neighborhood. I'll keep you posted if a referral drive happens.

2. You can keep this issue alive in the fall election. Grill your local candidates for state legislature on the campaign trail. Write letters to the editor about the need for better education policy. If your incumbents voted for HB 1234, vote them out. (You can find the roll call votes on the HB 1234 webpage.)

3. Most immediately, you can run for the Legislature yourself. It's not an easy job. But the most certain protection we have against HB 1234 is to elect legislators who will repeal it next year and focus on positive policy for our public schools. If your legislators voted for HB 1234, and if no one has yet filed to run against them, go to your courthouse, grab petitions, and get yourself on the ballot. Getting on the ballot for Legislature requires no more than 50 signatures.

We lost this battle, but not the war. We can still stop HB 1234. We now take the fight to the polls in November.

Again, thank you, everyone, for standing up for our schools, our kids, and the will of the people. Keep up the fight!

Cory Allen Heidelberger
Petition organizer, French teacher
MadvilleTimes.com
Spearfish, SD