Rebuttal of the week to gubernatorial malarkey on K-12 education funding comes from Leola superintendent Brian Heupel, who offers this observation on Governor Dennis Daugaard's persistent shirking of responsibility for South Dakota's perennial barrel-bottom teacher pay:

"The governor always says that the local school boards determine teacher pay," Heupel said. "Well, I look at it, when I was growing up, if my dad gave me 50 cents, I couldn't go to the store and buy something for a dollar" [Patrick Anderson, "Teacher Shortage Stories," that Sioux Falls paper, 2015.01.22].

The teacher shortage is real. Heupel and his colleagues in Flandreau, Alcester-Hudson, Chamberlain, and Estelline aren't making it up. And the amount the Governor is willing to spend on education is directly responsible for our continued sorry state.

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Senate Bill 55 is this year's revision of the current budget. As they do each year, legislators will use SB 55 to amend the current budget to reflect changes in revenues and expenses that have since accrued since legislators guessed ten months ago how much it would cost to run the state.

Legislators didn't guess too badly last year. Out of general fund expenditures of $1.392 billion approved last March, Senate Bill 55 cuts just $9.4 million, or 0.67%. Guess your household budget to within 1%, and you're doing pretty well.

Downward revisions in education make up the bulk of the general fund savings. The vo-techs saw 225 fewer students enroll than the budget anticipated, resulting in $749,054 less expense than budgeted. K-12 fall enrollment was 354 students lower than budget, resulting in $1.69 million less in state aid. But the big difference is $6.61 million more in local revenue than the state budget expected. Add in a few other details, keep a little cushion for other unpredictables, and SB 55 takes $7.4 million out of education column of the state general fund.

The Bureau of Finance and Management told the Joint Appropriations Committee last week that revenues came in $10.7 million lower than expected for this fiscal year. However, by cashing out a $16 million Medicaid reserve fund and the ACA-obsoleted risk pool of $2.4 million, plus other adjustments, the FY2015 budget still comes out ahead $14.4 million. In other words, even if all the kids we expected had enrolled in the vo-techs and the public schools, and even if the locals hadn't overperformed on generating school revenue, we'd have still had plenty of money to cover our costs for this fiscal year.

Governor Dennis Daugaard once said he was "committed to the principle of 'first dollar and last dollar' for funding our schools." Well, here we have 14.4 million last dollars. Are we spending them on education?

The dual-credit program, which lets high school kids take college classes for credit toward graduation and toward their college transcripts for cheap is getting $577,500, to pay for many more students wisely participating (taking 5,500 more dual-credit courses than anticipated—good job, kids!). SB 55 sprinkles about $160K around the various campuses, plus 20 new full-time job units at USD. But the big one-time dollars we have at the end of this fiscal year are being directed elsewhere (per page 30 of BFM's January 14 presentation:

Emergency and Disaster Fund (SB 39) $7,994,449
Provider Direct Care Workforce Funding $4,125,000
Captive Insurance for Property and Casualty $4,000,000
Captive Insurance for Authorities $2,000,000
Sanford Underground Lab Ross Shaft Upgrades $3,950,000
SD Conservation Fund for Wildlife Habitat $1,500,000
Jobs For America’s Graduates Start-up Funding $925,000
River Flow Study $500,000
Tax Refunds for Elderly and Disabled $450,000
Rural Healthcare Recruitment Assistance (HB 1060) $381,766
Rural Healthcare Facility Recruitment Assistance (HB1057) $302,500
Total FY2015 Emergency Special Appropriations $26,128,715

Cleaning up disasters, recruiting health care workers, insuring state buildings, studying the Sioux River, giving old folks and the disabled a little tax break—all decent things to do... but none of them directing "last dollars" to improve our public schools.

Senate Bill 55 goes first to Senate Appropriations, which has yet to fix a date for that discussion. Perhaps amidst the recitation of dollar figures, we'll hear one of two legislators ask why we don't see more neat new ideas to boost our schools with those last dollars.

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When Bob Mercer calls something a "must-read," I usually believe him. But this time, when he urgently directs us to read Rep. Jacqueline Sly's (R-33/Rapid City) "wise words" on the challenges of funding education, he wastes my time. The House Education chair offers thirty sentences of no useful informational content and one sentence of unsupported blame. Here's the only sentence that matters:

In the past, actions to address the fiscal situation of the district have been delayed by the school board, administration, staff and the community because tough decisions have been derailed by emotional pleas [Rep. Jacqueline Sly, "Many Responsible for Schools' Budget Woes," Raid City Journal, 2015.01.17].

The rest of the essay is a vague meander through admin-speak about leaders proposing plans and irresponsible "public, media and staff" asking questions and attacking the leader instead of getting on board and being part of the solution. Rep. Sly uses no names, gives no examples, does nothing to tie the blame she wants to level on everyone but herself and her Legislative colleagues to any specific leader, any specific plan, any specific funding amounts, or any specific public discussions that have turned into tar-and-feather sessions. Rep. Sly simply fabricates a world that makes her feel better for serving a Governor who sets budget parameters in which the teacher shortage gets worse and school boards struggle to meet their basic needs.

Rep. Sly's vague rhetoric aligns with the standard South Dakota Republican blame deflection in its war on public education. Republicans pretend that 2012's House Bill 1234 was a good plan for education, that we mean and selfish teachers destroyed that plan by referring it to a public vote and never proposed a viable plan of our own, and that the Governor and the Republican Legislature are thus excused from making any further effort to raise teacher salaries and save our public schools. Blame teachers, blame the schools, and let them sink.

Instead of sly insults, I eagerly await real wise words on education from our Legislature this session.

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Governor Dennis Daugaard's State of the State Address can be boiled down to this family anecdote, delivered at the end of his lengthy opening discussion of his first policy priority, fixing South Dakota's roads:

You know, just last week Linda and I welcomed the birth of our fourth grandchild, Greta.

It reminded me of when our first grandchild, Henry was born. Some of you have heard this before. I asked Henry's dad how they planned to distinguish between me and Henry's other grandfather. I thought maybe "grandpa" and "papa." He said, "Well, we are going to call the other grandfather, 'Grandpa Fat.'" "Oh," I said. "What will you call me – 'Grandpa Thin'?" "No," he replied. "We are going to call you 'Grandpa Cheap'" [link added; Governor Dennis Daugaard, State of the State Address, as transcribed by that Sioux Falls paper, 2015.01.13].

[Insert the only editorial comment from legislators during the State of the State Address: hearty laughter.]

I suppose that's about right, but I would really prefer, "Grandpa Frugal." You know me. No one wants to raise taxes less than I do. But as I've said before, there is a difference between being "frugal" and being "cheap." A cheap person refuses to spend money even when it would be wise to do so. A frugal person is careful with money, but understands that sometimes spending in the short term can pay bigger dividends in the long term.

That is today's situation. Maintaining our roads and bridges is one of the most basic functions of government and it is vital – for this year and for decades to come. I don't want to leave this problem to future governors, future legislators, and future generations [Daugaard, 2015.01.13].

A cheap person refuses to spend money even when it would be wise to do so. Raising teacher pay to competitive rates would be wise. Expanding Medicaid would be wise. Promoting renewable energy and efficiency would be wise. But Governor Daugaard refuses to spend money on those policies.

South Dakota, brace yourself for four more years of Grandpa Cheap.

P.S.: Credit where credit is due: the originator of this phrase is the Governor's chief of staff and son-in-law Tony Venhuizen.

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Chuck Clement reports that South Dakota gets a C-minus for K-12 education qualityEducation Week remains unimpressed with our public school policies and performance, ranking us 40th in the nation. Our 69.6 on their hundred-point scale isn't much better than the 69.3 we got two years ago.

Clement reports that South Dakota loses big points in school finance:

The state's K-12 system received a D-plus and a rank of 42 in the school finance grading, falling below the average state grade of C.

When the researchers studied K-12 education spending in 2012, they found that South Dakota spent in adjusted per-pupil expenditures $10,740, compared to $11,740 as the national average, giving the state a 31 ranking. However, the center's research also determined that South Dakota only had about 11 percent of its K-12 students in school districts with per-pupil spending at or higher than the national average, making the state's ranking 37 in that category.

South Dakota was ranked 48th in state expenditures on K-12 schooling as a percent of state taxable resources with South Dakota at 2.5 percent and the national average at 3.4 percent [Chuck Clement, "South Dakota's K-12 System Receives C-Minus," Madison Daily Leader, 2015.01.09].

But hey, we're still getting more bang for our buck, right?

The state received a D and a rank of 43 in K-12 achievement, falling below the average state grade of C-minus.

In the area of achievement, South Dakota received its lowest rankings (from 46 to 50) in achievement gains from 4th- and 8th-graders' scores on the National Assessment of Educational Process exams taken from 2003 to 2013. The researchers studied the scale-score changes in the NAEP results. [Clement, 2015.01.09].

Uh oh, Legislature. Sounds like you'd better focus on something other than subjecting teachers to the Pierre Inquisition.

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The Tax Foundation reminds us that South Dakota continues to stay afloat on red-state moocherism. Our conservative one-party state relies on the federal government for a greater percentage of its general revenues than all but three other states:

Federal-Aid-as-a-Percentage-of-State-Revenue_0

(click to embiggen!)

 

South Dakota got 40.8% of its general fund revenues from Uncle Sam in Fiscal Year 2012. Only Tennessee, Louisiana, and Mississippi got bigger portions of their pie from the feds.

When I reported the Tax Foundation's figures on this topic two years ago, South Dakota was at 45.56%. Governor Dennis Daugaard's proposed FY2016 budget brings that federal percentage down to 38.9%. Gee, Pastor Hickey: it looks like Governor Daugaard is already soft-landing us for that Long Economic Winter! (See Rev. Hickey's September 14–20, 2014, podcasts on the topic.)

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Last November, Tony Venhuizen told us that 2014 was Dennis Daugaard's last election. The Governor now confirms that statement, in not so many words, by announcing that he will support raising taxes to fix South Dakota's roads and bridges:

During his 15-minute inaugural address, Daugaard promised more of the frugality that led to eliminating state government’s structural deficit and improved bond ratings during his first term.

During his 15-minute inaugural address, Daugaard promised more of the frugality that led to eliminating state government’s structural deficit and improved bond ratings during his first term.

But he also pledged he wouldn’t be cheap and he will “seize opportunities in the short term where it can lead to savings, or efficiencies, or better government in the long term.”

The first example came immediately after the ceremony. He told news reporters a priority in the legislative session would be raising more money for roads and bridges.

He said too much maintenance was deferred in the past, such as buildings at the state Human Services Center in Yankton.

“We need to confront decisions like that — and make them, right or wrong,” Daugaard said [Bob Mercer, "Dennis Daugaard Begins Second Term as South Dakota's Governor," Aberdeen American News, 2015.01.11].

As he did with the structural deficit four years ago, Governor Daugaard finds himself in a hole dug by his smiling predecessor Marion Michael Rounds, who let roads and bridges crumble while praying at the altar of corporate welfare. Rounds wouldn't support fixing roads, since there was no way to do that without raising big taxes, and he had his eye on running for Senate when he was done in the big chair in Pierre. Evidently with his last election behind him, Daugaard feels he can throw his weight behind some hard, practical investments.

Alas, the Governor's approach shows another problem with one-party rule in Pierre. Bob Mercer reports that instead of backing the comprehensive road funding package created by Senator Mike Vehle (R-20/Mitchell) and his diligent Highway Needs and Financing interim committee, the Governor will demand having things his way:

That means however the interim transportation committee’s road-and-bridge legislation, Senate Bill 1, likely is dead on arrival. It’s a sweeping plan that would raise every conceivable fee and tax affecting motor vehicles that travel state highways in some fashion at some point. Naturally something so broad would have broad opposition. Vehle wanted everybody to be in the boat. Look for a bill from the governor that would be trimmer and that he — Daugaard — could put his clout behind in the first year of his second and final term [Bob Mercer, "Governor Gets Aboard on Road and Bridge Funding," Pure Pierre Politics, 2015.01.11].

Politics aside, the Governor is talking sense:

This is a big change from Gov. Daugaard regarding taxes and fees, but as he took care to explain in roundabout fashion in his inaugural speech Saturday and much more directly in his remarks afterward to reporters, sometimes more money in the short term is needed to save money in the long run. That perspective is consistent with much of what he did in his first term and is proposing in other areas of his latest budget proposal [Mercer, "Governor Gets Aboard...," 2015.01.11].

Invest now, save later—why is that clear only to politicians who aren't running for re-election?

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When incoming Secretary of State Shantel Krebs announced she was hiring Brown County GOP chairman Jason Williams to serve as her public information officer, I wondered if she was expanding government to make room for what looked like a little partisan patronage.

Secretary Krebs tells this blog there's no government expansion going on under her watch. Secretary Krebs says that, while she is still bound by law to operate under her predecessor Jason Gant's budget until the end of the fiscal year on June 30, she's already making the office run leaner. Gant's budget included 15.6 full-time equivalents (FTEs). Right now, Secretary Krebs is holding down the fort with 13.5 FTEs. That's not just a temporary lag in bringing new people on board; Secretary Krebs says that's plenty. The Secretary's office has not prepared a budget proposal yet (they have petition reform legislation to write up for tomorrow's pre-filing deadline—stay tuned for a post on that topic over the weekend!), but Secretary Krebs says that instead of continuing the 15.6 FTE allocation found in Governor Daugaard's FY 2016 proposal, she may knock another half FTE off her current staff and budget 13.0 FTE.

Multiple Krebs staff members are thus picking up duties that were spread among others in the Gant office. Secretary Krebs says PIO Williams is no exception. In addition to getting the word out about SOS activities to the public, Williams will handle special projects, like Secretary Krebs's initiative to increase voter turnout. Secretary Krebs says Williams is already studying turnout data, breaking it down by age group, and thinking about which voters to target and how. Expect PIO Williams to be getting out to schools, talking with voters, and looking for answers to our dwindling turnout.

In addition, Williams will track legislation for the Secretary of State's office. He'll be following the progress of the reforms proposed by the Board of Elections. He'll also keep an eye out for new bills from legislators and researching their impact on the office. He'll report on those bills to the boss, the Secretary herself, who will then speak to legislators in committee and in the lobby, as necessary, to protect the interests of fair elections and other functions of the Secretary of State.

Secretary Krebs says Williams and the rest of her staff are putting in overtime and delivering "exceptional" customer service. The Secretary herself seems to be setting the pace. Consider that, in response to a media inquiry from this blog, the Secretary herself texted me at 6:25 a.m. today. She had meetings all day, but she arranged to visit with me on the phone at 6:30 p.m. She said she had 10 minutes; she gave me 19.

I did not keep track of the multiple times I left messages for Secretary Gant and never heard back from him. But so far, Secretary Krebs is batting 1.000 on fielding media requests from the Madville Times. Perhaps the state's chief election officer has bigger fish to fry than speaking to some blogger, but I find my first interaction with the new election chief... satisfactory.

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