House Bill 1044 looks like a lot of style and form changes related to certifying and disciplining K-12 teachers and administrators. The Secretary of Education gets explicit authorization to initiate certificate violations (what? Dr. Schopp doesn't have that already?). The bill clarifies the Secretary's authority to refuse to issue or renew education certificates as well as suspend or revoke. Most of the provisions seem reasonable and minor.

But I notice three provisions that appear to subject educators to a greater threat of losing their license to teach or administer in South Dakota. (The bill applies equally to teachers, principals, and superintendents; as a teacher, I'll focus on teachers.)

Section 10 changes who can start a proceeding to take away a teacher's license. Remember, we're not just talking about getting a teacher fired—that's handled at the local level, by the school board. We're talking about yanking a teaching certificate, a teacher's permission slip to seek employment anywhere in the state. Right now, SDCL 13-42-12 says that "The school board or governing body employing a teacher or administrator, the professional teachers practices and standards commission, professional administrators practices and standards commission, or the secretary of the Department of Education" can start the process to revoke a teacher's certificate. HB 1044 strikes that language and authorizes "any person" to call for a certificate revocation hearing.

In my teaching career, I believe I've had a hot parent or two say they were going to take my license away. None ever have, because parents can't do that. South Dakota has a nice local protocol where, if you have a beef with a teacher, you first talk to the teacher. If that conversation doesn't satisfy your concerns, you take it to the principal, then the superintendent, then the school board. That's four levels of your friends and neighbors who, if something really is wrong with the teacher, ought to be able to take some action. If your local school board does fire the teacher from your district, it's up to the school board to decide whether to ask Pierre to kick the teacher out of the profession.

The current system allows local districts to filter complaints. HB 1044 lets angry parents skip the local level completely and take their complaint straight to Pierre. HB 1044 comes at the request of the Department of Education, so I guess Secretary Schopp really must want to deal with a constant stream of headhunting parents. Have fun with that, Melody!

Current statute (SDCL 13-42-13) gives the teacher under fire the ability to demand that the hearing take place in the county seat of the county where the alleged violations that draw the complaint took place. HB 1044 repeals that statute and leaves the choice to move the hearing from Pierre with the Department of Education. That increases the possibility that 90% of South Dakota teachers would have to drive at least three hours to defend their certificate. The same drive time would apply to complainants, although (and I can speak from experience) angry parents who want to make a teacher's life hell often are more motivated (and, dare I suggest, given South Dakota's wages, more wealthy?) than the teacher who just wants to keep her head down and do her job. HB 1044 reduces the ability of challenged teachers to at least keep the costs of their litigation down.

HB 1044 then throws another brick at teachers. As if asking, "Are you sure you want to fight this?" the bill offers Section 17:

After conducting a contested case proceeding that results in the denial, nonrenewal, revocation, or suspension of a certificate, the department or commission may assess all or part of its actual costs for the proceeding against the certificate holder or applicant.

Make due process potentially more expensive, and fewer people will seek due process. A teacher facing a certificate revocation has probably already been fired. If she wants to stay in teaching, she'll have to spend every job interview for the rest of her life explaining why she got fired and why that firing shouldn't stop the next school from hiring her. Even if she's a really good teacher and the firing wasn't just, far more employers will decline to give her a chance to prove her abilities, thus reducing her lifelong earning opportunities. Suspending or revoking her teaching certificate only worsens her professional and financial outlook. Doesn't that process already impose enough costs on the teacher without tacking on another bill at the end that says due process isn't really your due.

I also notice that Section 17 is not complemented with a section that requires complainants to pay the cost of the proceeding if their complaint does not prevail. HB 1044 thus goes after jerk teachers who deserve to be kicked out of the profession, but it does not go after vindictive community members who would drag a teacher through an arduous certificate hearing for no good reason.

House Bill 1044 looks like a further weakening of South Dakota educators' ability to defend themselves from local politics and unfair challenges to their professional livelihood. HB 1044 promotes the false impression that there's something wrong with our teachers. South Dakota teachers really aren't paid enough to put up with this kind of grief.