Just like last year, the South Dakota House is considering school legislation which would harm K-12 education and which distracts us from talking about real policy solutions for the daily problems we teachers face in helping kids learn. Just like last year, teachers, principals, and school boards are lining up solidly against the Legislature's wrong-headed proposal.
And I worry that, just like last year, an ideologically driven Republican majority will ignore the good advice of the education experts and pass their very bad idea.
The House Education Committee heard testimony yesterday on House Bill 1087, the school-gunslinger bill. Prime sponsor Rep. Rev. Scott Craig (R-33/Rapid City) presente the bill. Then came the proponents and opponents. Please read the testimony roster from the minutes carefully:
Proponents: Representative Betty Olson
Representative Steve Hickey
Representative Jim Bolin
Florence Thompson, self
Emmett Reistroffer, SD Families First
Representative Leslie Heinemann
Representative Jim Stalzer
Senator Craig Tieszen
Opponents: Orson Ward, self
Wade Pogany, Associated School Boards of SD
Jeff Marlette, self
Sandy Arseneault, SD Education Association
Jim Holbeck, Harrisburg School District
Dianna Miller, Large School Group
In favor: six Republican legislators, including Betty Olson, who argues that she feels helpless when she works as a substitute teacher and can't bring her gun to work.
Betty, in the unlikely event that I am ever a school administrator, I will never hire you or anyone else who lives in such fear and views my classrooms as her personal shooting gallery.
Rep. Rev. Steve Hickey joined his pulpit pal rep. Rev. Craig in urging schools to pick up the sword... though he keeps hiding his call behind his specious local control argument. Rep. Rev. Hickey ups the rhetorical ante by trying to paint opponents into a corner:
“Which school board do you not trust to do what is best?” said Rep. Steve Hickey, R-Sioux Falls [Josh Verges, "Guns in School: Sides Give Testimony," that Sioux Falls paper, 2013.01.23].
Rep. Rev. Hickey did the same strategy with last year's HB 1234, the Governor's attempt to wreck our schools with merit pay and foolishness: the bill can't stand on its own merits, so throw a little ad hominem at the opponents. Opponents of this bill don't mistrust any school board (well, I might have a chat with Betty Olson's); opponents simply recognize that having armed teachers and volunteers in classrooms and school hallways is a bad idea that the Legislature should not authorize for anyone.
It's the same as if the Legislature wanted to authorize schools to expel students for being openly gay. It doesn't matter how much I trust my school board; why would we pass a law to let school boards do such a bad thing?
Two non-legislators spoke in favor of HB 1087. Fringe anti-socialism crusader Florence Thompson said she's felt unsafe subbing in recent years and wants more guns in school. She's obviously been watching too much cable news. Quasi-libertarian Emmett Reistroffer took a break from his advocacy for drug legalization and prison reform to advocate for making it easier for kids and teachers to get shot at school.
Testifying against the legislation were the people who would be most directly affected by the legislation, the folks who work at schools, as represented by the school board association, the teachers' association, the large school group, and two working superintendents. ASBSD exec Wade Pogany said quite simply, "More firearms in schools makes schools even more unsafe." He also wasn't tricked by Rep. Rev. Hickey's local-control smokescreen:
“This is not a debate about local control. The question is: Is it acceptable to allow teachers and administrators to carry guns in schools?” he said. “This is a decision that is so important that it needs to be made at the state level” [Verges, 2013.01.23].
Lead-Deadwood school board chairman Orson Ward and New Underwood superintendent Jeff Marlette both agree that we should not authorize more guns in school. They are both big timber in the National Guard, so they know a thing or two about firearms. Marlette urged the legislators not to overreact to last month's school shooting in Connecticut.
The House Education Committee at least decided not to overreact right away. With so many serious educators looking them in the eye and telling them not to pass this bill, the committee decided to delay action so they could shoo those opponents out of the room and discuss the bill further on Friday.
Friends, if you didn't manage to get hold of the House Education committee members before yesterday's hearing, you have another chance. Give them a ring and tell them to quit hurting education with bad bills like HB 1087. If you need some text to work with, here's the e-mail I sent to every member on Tuesday.
House Education, don't make the mistake you made last year with HB 1234. Listen to the teachers, the administrators, and the school boards. Reject the school-gunslinger bill now.