In his State of the State Address this afternoon, Governor Dennis Daugaard served up a couple of policy proposals that suggest smarter investment of economic development dollars. Speaking to a joint session of the Legislature, Governor Daugaard says he intends to give out five million dollars in Future Fund grants to help schools collaborate on career and technical education programs. The Governor says he solicited grant requests from school districts and has thus far received over $20 million in requests. He's going to have some hard choosing to do!
Governor Daugaard said he has appropriated another $3.8 million from the Future Fund for tech upgrades at our tech schools. He plans to use another $1.5 million to support scholarships for tech students who agree to work in high-need job areas in South Dakota for three years.
These programs seem reasonable... although I still hear the theme of making education subservient to demands of employers, corporations, and the economy. Imagine if we had a governor who took preparing students to weld as seriously as preparing students to write or to wonder. Imagine if we had a governor who would drop a $5 million grant on schools to upgrade their libraries, to build nicer theaters, and to pay their literature teachers more (to discuss novels, not tech manuals!).
The Governor makes clear his prioritization of business over education with his proposal on how to deal with budget surpluses. Currently, our state surpluses go to reserve funds. Governor Daugaard still wants surplus money to go to our rainy-day fund first, but he wants to cap that surplus transfer to maintain the rainy day funds at 10% of general fund appropriations. After that, he wants surplus funds to go to the Building South Dakota Fund for economic development.
Should economic development really go first in line for unexpected money, ahead of education? Ahead of Medicaid? Ahead of law enforcement? Ahead of state parks, conservation, or the pine beetle fight? We can certainly do important work with surplus dollars. Which important work we choose to do first says much about our political priorities.
Related: The Legislative party leaders and the District 8 delegation have in their inboxes Madville Times Bill 104, which would link Future Fund grants and supplemental education funding. We'll see what they think of those priorities.