The Senate Judiciary Committee looked the National Rifle Association in the eye yesterday and said no... twice.

The NRA sent lobbyist John Commerford from Washington, DC, to lobby for House Bills 1096 and 1116 before Senate Judiciary Tuesday morning. Both bills tinkered with our concealed weapons permit laws; HB 1116 was the worse, effectively repealing the need to obtain a permit to carry a concealed firearm. The NRA supported both bills, and Senate Judiciary rejected both bills. The only votes supporting HB 1096 and HB 1116 came from Senator Jeff Monroe (R-24/Pierre), who has previously laid bare his fearful fealty to his NRA score.

The full Senate struck another blow against gun nuttery yesterday by tabling Senate Bill 192, which would have allowed sergeants-at-arms in the Capitol to carry firearms. Prime sponsor Senator Brock Greenfield (R-2/Clark) wheezed again about his vague terror at our "ever-changing, increasingly volatile world" yet yielded to law enforcement and security professionals and asked the Senate to table his fearful bill. The Senate obliged.

The Legislature has now killed six bills dealing with concealed weapons in their titles (previous dust-biters: HB 1108, HB 1183, HB 1206, and SB 162). Only two concealed weapons bills have survived: HB 1215, creating an enhanced concealed weapons permit, is headed for Senate committee, while the Governor has signed Senate Bill 12, making it easier for military spouses to get concealed weapons permits.

I cheer the Legislature's possibly growing willingness to say no to the NRA. Now how about developing the will to say yes to the NEA? The Legislature seems to have floated more bills to put guns in people's pockets than to put more money in teachers' pockets. Tell me, citizens, which problem seems to be more urgent in South Dakota: the inability of citizens to defend themselves with secretly carried deadly force, or the inability of teachers to make ends meet on South Dakota's barrel-bottom teacher pay?


The South Dakota Legislature holds deep respect for the committee process... until it gets a chance to disrespect public education.

While the South Dakota House yesterday insisted on respecting the committee process and refused to resurrect House Bill 1223, the Common Core ban, from its committee failure, the South Dakota Senate said Committee, Schmommittee! dragged Senate Bill 189 back from its committee failure and passed it 23–12.

HB 1223 might at least have improved public education by getting Common Core off teachers' backs. SB 189 harms public education and the state budget by diverting tax dollars to private schools. The convoluted mechanics of the bill allow the state to say it's not writing a check to any religious school (which would be a problem): under SB 189, insurance companies give money to non-profits; those non-profits give money to lower-income families; those families give their money to private schools; the state says to the insurers, "How nice!" and knocks up to 90% of the insurers' private school scholarship contributions off their premium and annuity tax.

As educator/blogger Michael Larson says, SB 189 is a voucher sneak attack. He notes that SB 189 hurts public school districts by removing kids from their rosters money from their state funding without proportionately reducing those public schools' costs... which of course is what Governor Dennis Daugaard*, the GOP majority in Pierre, and the Christian crusaders who testified for SB 189 want to see happen.

SB 189 as several additional problems:

  1. SB 189 starts with scholarships for families who make 150% or less of the income threshold for free or reduced lunch the year before they enter the program. But it allows families to keep claiming that credit if their income exceeds that threshold. Consider: my family could easily have qualified for such a credit based on our low grad school/part-time income last year. Now that my wife has full-time professional employment, and if I gain similar full-time employment in the coming school year, we'll be far above that 150% threshold. We'll have no need of financial assistance to send our child to private school, but SB 189 would require the state to keep handing out that subsidy for three years.
  2. SB 189 caps creditable scholarships at four million dollars. "However," reads SB 189, "if in any fiscal year the total amount of tax credits claimed is equal to or greater than ninety percent of the maximum amount of tax credits allowed for that fiscal year, the maximum amount allowed for the following fiscal year shall increase by twenty-five percent." Wow! Pierre never increases school funding by 25% just because the schools claim more expenses. If we applied SB 189's funding mechanism to determining the per-student allocation, public schools could spend just 95% of the per-student allocation and trigger a 25% for the coming year. SB 189 is giving private schools a funding advantage that public schools never get.
  3. If insurance companies and the private schools play their cards right, that 25% growth rate would lead to SB 189 handing out $133 million in its first ten years and $1.24 billion in its next ten years.
  4. The insurance tax is projected to put $83.4 million in state coffers in FY2016. Those receipts have grown 5% over the last two years. Extrapolate that growth rate, and the insurance tax alone could support SB 189's private school subsidy's explosive through FY2034—seventeen years to wreak havoc on public school finance and the state budget.

If you believe in strong public schools, you vote Senate Bill 189 down. If you believe in separation of church an state, you vote this sneaky voucher plan down. If you believe in a sound state budget, you vote this plan down.

*Update 16:24 CST: To be clear, the Daugaard Administration did not testify in favor of SB 189. Other actions by the Daugaard Administration (Exhibit #1: 2012's HB 1234; Exhibit #2, ongoing neglect of K-12 funding...) demonstrate a lack of respect for public education, but last week, the Governor sent the Department of Education and the Department of Labor and Regulation to testify against SB 189. The proper read of that testimony is less likely a desire to defend public education and more likely a desire to oppose blasting a four-million-dollar hole in the budget.

¡Es necesario enseñar inglés! Aberdeen Development Corporation CEO Mike Bockorny (left) addresses Commissioner Tom Fischbach (right) and other members of the Brown County Commission, Aberdeen, SD, February 24, 2015.

¡Es necesario enseñar inglés! Aberdeen Development Corporation CEO Mike Bockorny (left) addresses Commissioner Tom Fischbach (right) and other members of the Brown County Commission, Aberdeen, SD, February 24, 2015.

Aberdeen Development Corporation CEO Mike Bockorny briefed the Brown County Commission this morning on his organization's current aims. Bockorny, who took the ADC reins last August. Bockorny upheld the conventional wisdom that they greatest obstacle to economic development in South Dakota is a shortage of workers. Bockorny said that while South Dakota's business climate remains much more attractive than the business climate on either Coast, if a business swoops in with an offer to move to Aberdeen and asks ADC to help them find 200 to 400 workers, "that would be a challenge."

The South Dakota Department of Labor puts Brown County's unemployment at 2.9%, meaning 640 workers out of a workforce of 21,675. I agree that the chances that the skills of one to two thirds of those waiting workers aligning with the needs of a single big employer are slim.

Bockorny told the Brown County Commission that he and his brand-spankin' new workforce development coordinator Kati Bachmeyer are working on targeting certain markets for recuriting new workers and integrating newcomers and refugees in the community.

When Commissioner Rachel Kippley asked what areas ADC is targeting for those new recruits, Bockorny said we pretty much have to look to foreign immigrants, to "folks that don't look like the majority of us." Bockorny said Aberdeen currently has 250-some Somali, Karen, and Latino workers, mostly toiling away in the industrial park. Bockorny said the ADC has "acquired contacts" with certain relocating groups who could bring immigrant workers to fill the needs that we can't on our own.

Bockorny said that Aberdeen and Brown County will need to support the integration of these foreign workers. An essential part of that integration will be the English as a second language program at Northern State University. The need for language skills means we're going to need teachers to help these immigrants make themselves at home in South Dakota...

...which leads us to the payoff for this story: Teachers are essential to South Dakota's economic development. If we don't recruit good teachers with good wages, our new immigrant workers won't be able to learn English and integrate into our communities, and we won't be able to keep the workers we need to grow.

Economic development starts with teachers. English teachers.

Tangentially Related Reading:


To the Republicans Are Really Marxists file, add this statement from Lieutenant Governor Matt Michels on preparations for the as-yet nebulous Blue Ribbon Stalling Tactic on education:

We might be smart individually but collectively we're brilliant [Lt. Gov. Matt Michels, interview with WNAX Radio, 2015.02.24].

In other words, Lt. Gov. Michels and his boss Dennis Daugaard value groupthink over individual genius. Hey, that's why we have Common Core, right?

Update 11:08 CST: Blogger John Tsitrian questions the Daugaard-Michels Administration's collective brilliance given our state economy's soft performance.


Voters in Sioux Falls will decide in April whether to require their schools to start before or after Labor Day. Here in Aberdeen, we aren't getting a post-Labor Day start, but our superintendent is acknowledging that a little later is better:

Because of the way the dates fell on the calendar, the district was able to add a whole week between the final day of the Brown County Fair and the first day of school, Superintendent Becky Guffin told the Aberdeen Public Board of Education at its regular meeting on Monday at the Hub Area Technical School. Usually, the Aberdeen School District starts school the Tuesday after the Brown County Fair.

“The Brown County Fair is a little earlier this summer — it’s Aug. 10-16,” Guffin said. “That would have allowed us to start school shortly after that. We are proposing that we start school on the fourth Monday in August, which would be Aug. 24 for next year. This start date does allow us to enjoy as much summer as we possibly can” [Katherine Grandstrand, "Later Start to School Year Possible in Aberdeen," Aberdeen American News, 2015.02.24].

Hold on, Superintendent Guffin: I wouldn't say August 24 allows us to enjoy "as much summer as we possibly can." It's entirely possible to pack all the school learning we need into the days between Labor Day and Memorial Day, which would leave children free for every day of American cultural summer.

Instead of wondering whether we'll start on the 24th, the 20th, or back in the teens of August, running school between Labor Day and Memorial Day would create consistency for kids and parents. It would bracket the school year with national holidays, emphasizing the importance of school in kids' minds. Aberdeen is nodding in that direction; Sioux Falls, see if you can do better.


I got no support from my fellow Democrats last week when I urged them to vote for House Bill 1223 and end the state's involvement in Common Core. My fellow Democrats now have a chance to rectify that error by supporting Rep. Dan Kaiser's effort to resurrect that bill and bring it to the House floor for debate. House Democrats—all 12 of you!—here are my top ten ten reasons for you to back HB 1223:

  1. HB 1223 fights the teacher shortage: get teachers out from under the paperwork involved with state standards, and you make teaching more appealing.
  2. HB 1223 isn't a pay raise, but it will take one item out of the list of burdens that make teachers say, "They don't pay me enough to do this stuff."
  3. Republicans aren't going to offer any other legislation for substantive improvements in K-12 education. Bring HB 1223 to the floor, and turn it into a filibuster on the administration's general failure to live up to its obligations to our kids and our teachers.
  4. The Daugaard Administration opposes HB 1223. Oppose the Governor. Make him spend more political capital to oppose the conservatives who support this bill.
  5. Bringing this bill to the House floor and keeping your seats forces Republican leaders to speak in favor of Common Core. The more often our Howie/Nelson-flavored conservative neighbors hear GOP leaders saying, "Common Core is good," the more those real conservatives will organize and recruit primary candidates, which will be nothing but fun for us.
  6. The arch-conservatives who back HB 1223 generally hold the greatest fear and loathing of Democrats. HB 1223 is a low-impact way to show them that Democrats aren't pointy-horned devils.
  7. Rep. Fred Deutsch (R-4/Watertown) is peddling the line that you can't reject a bad policy without offering a workable replacement. That's the same argument Republicans used to push Governor Daugaard's merit pay plan three years ago. We should reject bad logic like that whenever we get the chance.
  8. But if Rep. Deutsch and Secretary Schopp insist that we have to have a replacement plan, give 'em what they want: propose an amendment to repeal all state-mandated curriculum standards and standardized tests. Essentially you'd be calling Republicans' bluffs on local control and suggestions of getting rid of the Department of Education.
  9. Take away curriculum standards, and Republicans won't be able to write creationism or other nonsense into those standards.
  10. Take away curriculum standards, and you reduce the Department of Education's leverage over local schools. And as long as Republicans control the Department of Education, isn't that reduction of leverage a good thing?

Go ahead, Dems! Back the smokeout, and use HB 1223 to rattle some cages.


South Dakota ranks 39th for expenditures per K-12 student but 51st for teacher pay.

I have heard Republican legislators respond to questions about teacher pay with that statistical comparison at both crackerbarrels that I have attended this month. Governor Daugaard cited this fact in response to questions about teacher pay during 2014 campaign debates at Dakotafest and the State Fair.

South Dakota Republicans cite these figures because they know they are running out of excuses for valuing South Dakota teachers less than every other state does. Legislators and the Governor offer these numbers to distract us from the state's inaction in the face of the growing teacher shortage, divert blame from the Legislature to local school districts for keeping money from teachers, and excuse the Governor's Blue Ribbon Stalling Tactic.

While the SDGOP's motives for peddling the 39th/51st comparison are nefarious, the question merits some discussion. But the South Dakota Budget and Policy Institute (looking at data that ranks us 41st, not 39th, in per-student spending) spares us another summer study and explains that we outspend a few other states for smaller class sizes:

South Dakota averages 13.7 pupils per teacher. Although South Dakota’s class size is slightly higher than its neighbors, its cost per student for instruction is lower because we have much lower teacher salaries. With a constant class size only OK has lower instructional cost per student than SD

The nine states that have lower instructional costs than South Dakota all have larger classroom sizes, ranging from 14.7 in Texas to 22.8 in Utah.

If the classroom sizes in these nine states were comparable to South Dakota’s classroom size (13.7), the per-student-instructional cost would be higher in every state except Oklahoma [Joy Smolnisky, "Instructional Cost Per Student in South Dakota," South Dakota Budget and Policy Project, 2015.02.06].

Smaller class sizes are worth spending some money. Smaller class sizes are also unavoidable in smaller districts where fluctuations from grade to grade may have the lone fourth-grade teacher working with sixteen kids one year and just eight the next. Check the expenditure-per-student data for South Dakota schools, and you'll see most of the big spenders are smaller districts, while most of the big districts (which can more easily smooth out fluctuating student populations across classrooms) are on the lower end of the expenditure rankings.

Mitchell superintendent Joe Graves was hinting at the class size issue last week when he proposed solving the teacher shortage by getting rid of more public school teachers. If they have to pay teachers more, South Dakota Republicans would love to do it by paying fewer teachers.

K-12 class sizes and per-student expenditures, South Dakota vs. region, South Dakota Budget and Policy Project, 2015.02.06.

K-12 class sizes and per-student expenditures, South Dakota vs. region, South Dakota Budget and Policy Project, 2015.02.06.

South Dakota class sizes are in the middle of the regional range, yet all of our neighbors spend more per student and per teacher. In similar conditions, our neighbors raise more public money for their students and place a higher value on the service their teachers provide.

Over the last decade, states have provided 43% to 49% of funding for K-12 education, with local governments shouldering just a few percentage points less of that burden. In South Dakota, the state picks up closer to 30% of the tab for K-12 education. Maybe local districts have a little more control over capital outlay levies and can at least spend to maintain their facilities, but Pierre is choking off the general fund dollars they need to pay their teachers competitive wages.

SDBPI notes that since 2004, South Dakota has dedicated less of its general fund expenditures to K-12 education. In 2004, the state spent 37% of its general fund on K-12 education. In 2014, the state spent 27% of its general fund on K-12 education.

We do not need a summer study to understand the problem. Our per-student expenditures are inflated by slightly better student-teacher ratios. Smooth that factor out, and our teacher pay is still rock-bottom, due to the state abdicating its commitment to K-12 education. With those facts in our hands, the only reasons for a summer study are delay, distraction, and a desire to drive more teachers out of South Dakota.


The South Dakota House showed a little common sense yesterday and killed House Bill 1206, which would have allowed individuals to carry concealed weapons on our public university campuses. But some Republicans couldn't let that happen without exposing their contempt for the university students from across the state who admirably mobilized, testified, and lobbied to kill this bill. Young voters, pay attention.

Rep. Scott Craig (R-33/Rapid City) rose to speak to the dying bill (around timestamp 1:09:30 in the SDPB audio). He said he could be inclined to vote against the bill, just because he thinks most college kids—not the righteous, upstanding youth whom he thinks would carry guns on campus, but all the rest of the kids—are drunk rapists:

I wish I saw an irate student body, the representatives of the student bodies in all of our universities and colleges, I wish they were irate about what is killing, not about what might or what could, which I think is a real stretch, but what is killing their peers right now. The date rape is just nuts. We have an out-of-control culture, period, and a big part of that is seen in a four-year party.

I am very concerned about that. Now I am not so concerned about students carrying guns on campus, given who I believe those students would be. At the same time, my concern about the current system, just the culture of college, it is a bar, in many respects it is like a bar, and it is against the law to bring a gun to a bar.

I voted yes for this in committee. I just might vote no on it simply because our young folks are out of control. There's a lot of drinking, and it's like bringing guns to a bar when you go to college [Rep. Scott Craig, floor debate on HB 1206, South Dakota House, Pierre, South Dakota, 2015.02.19].

Rep. Craig did vote to let students bring concealed weapons to their drunken four-year party.

HB 1206 sponsor Rep. Jim Stalzer (R-11/Sioux Falls) followed with his closing remarks. He said a fair amount of rot, but none more rotten than this blatant insult:

When I was in college, I actually had to go to class. I don't know how all these people are here today [Rep. Jim Stalzer, floor debate on HB 1206, South Dakota House, Pierre, South Dakota, 2015.02.19].

Rep. Stalzer chortled at his own comment, as did several of his colleagues. Stalzer and friends are laughing at you, students. They are ridiculing your effort to participate in the political process. They are ridiculing the sacrifice you made to miss class, drive three hours in the middle of winter, and try to persuade a bunch of people who apparently don't respect you to still vote in the interests of public safety on your campuses. They are ridiculing you, students, for daring to use your voice.

Young people, Republicans like Craig and Stalzer need to go. You need to remember these speeches made on the floor of the South Dakota House. You need to come out en masse to vote in 2016 and vote these men out of office.

p.s.: I remind you, students: every Democrat in the House voted against HB 1206. We Democrats don't talk about students that way. We Democrats respect your voice.


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