Viewing education as an expense instead of an investment doesn't hurt our Governor or well-healed legislators, but it does come back to bite low-income students and families in the butt. Bob Mercer reports that, thanks to Governor Dennis Daugaard's draconian budget cuts in 2011, South Dakota is losing $1.5 million in federal aid to help low-income students go to college.
The College Access program does outreach programs around the state to help low-income families figure out the FAFSA. That's a low-cost way to help students pay for college. But we're taking real money out of students' pockets:
Many fewer of the $2,000 scholarships will be available to first-year college students. Aid will be substantially reduced to the 44 high schools, six state universities, four public technical institutes and four tribal colleges and universities that participate in College Access. ...There were 113 students who received $1,000 scholarships for the first semester and 110 who continued to second semester and received their second $1,000 scholarships. In all $223,000 was spent on scholarships last year. For the current school year, there is $89,000 set aside for scholarships [Bob Mercer, "S.D. Cut Off from Federal Grant for Low-Income Students," Aberdeen American News, 2013.10.12].
$134K in scholarships, down the drain. Guess who gets a lot of those scholarships... and guess how eager the state is to replace that money?
...many of the students who qualify for College Access scholarships in South Dakota are of American Indian heritage. The $1,000 is available for the first semester and is paid directly to the institution where a student enrolls. ...State Education Secretary Melody Schopp said she doesn't plan to ask the Legislature for state funding to offset the loss of federal funding on a temporary basis [Mercer, 2013.10.12].
$134K: That's nine days of "Buy a Day at Mount Rushmore" funding. But again, the Daugaard Administration is more interested in scoring symbolic political points than in providing real help to low-income—and especially American Indian—students left out in the cold by the Republicans' own short-sighted miserliness.
The state is keeping College Access alive at less than half strength with $681K it has left over from a previous federal grant... because apparently when Uncle Sam does give us money to serve specific important public functions, we don't spend the money to help people; we squirrel it away to cover our chintziness.
I can't even say penny wise, pound foolish because our penny-pinching was unnecessary in the first place. We have the wealth in South Dakota to invest in higher education. We had the wealth in the 2010 budget massacre; we just lacked the political will to get it and spend it. Governor Daugaard didn't need to meat-cleaver the FY2012 budget, and Uncle Sam knows it:
The problem began more than two years ago. The Legislature made budget cuts throughout state government, including for higher education, at the request of new Gov. Dennis Daugaard in the 2011 legislative session. The cuts were for the fiscal 2012 budget that started July 1, 2011. Funding was subsequently increased by the Legislature in the 2012 and 2013 sessions. But federal officials this summer decided the financial situation facing state government in the winter of 2011 wasn't dire enough to warrant a waiver that would keep South Dakota eligible for the College Access grant this year [emphasis mine; Mercer, 2013.10.12].
If we have the cash to open a park, we have the cash to make an investment that will help low-income South Dakotans go to college and enjoy a lifetime of better wages. Would someone please explain that to the Governor?