Remember how McGovern Middle School on the northwest edge of Sioux Falls had to ban kids from walking to school because of bad urban planning?

Turn with me to Lakewood, Ohio, a 52,000-strong suburb of Cleveland that embraces sensible, community-building urban planning:

As Lakewood grew, the city opted against setting up a school bus system, focusing instead on building schools to fit within the community. Most of the schools are multistory buildings on relatively small lots, making them easier to incorporate into residential neighborhoods. As the facilities aged over the years, officials chose to restore and upgrade the existing structures, rather than build sprawling new single-story campuses [Daniel Luzer, "The Town Where Everyone Still Walks to School," Governing, November 2014].

The result? Lakewood's schools offer no bus service, and nearly everyone can walk to school.  Kids get more exercise hauling themselves to school, and the schools save money:

...[T]he Lakewood school district spends about $500,000 a year on transportation, about $1 million less than comparable school districts, according to schools treasurer Kent Zeman. That’s money it can use for other things, including the slightly higher costs of maintaining those smaller, neighborhood-oriented schools. As Zeman puts it, “If you’re going to spend extra money, I’d rather it be on a teacher than a bus” [Luzer, Nov. 2014].

Rural South Dakota schools can't get rid of buses completely. But when we save a little money by abandoning neighborhood schools and building big flat buildings out at the edge of town, we shift costs to kids and families who can no longer walk to school, and we impose ongoing costs on taxpayers by requiring bus service for in-town kids who used to be able to hoof it.


South Dakota Republicans brag about their budget-balancing prowess. They don't like being reminded that they are balancing the budget by shifting burdens onto private citizens.

Consider higher education. South Dakota is part of a national trend in which states are reducing their proportional and real-dollar support for universities, leaving students to foot the bill through higher tuition. In South Dakota, that means that while the Governor can brag about meeting his statutory obligation to balance the state budget, college graduates are carrying more student loan debt. South Dakota has the second-highest percentage of students graduating in debt.

My friend Dr. Nesiba says that's a problem for anyone interested in upward mobility:

Economics Professor Reynold Nesiba says while public higher education is more affordable in South Dakota; wages are still low, making it difficult for families to afford it.

"Something has to happen. Either schools are going to have to figure out how to provide more aid, or the federal government has to provide more aid; or we're going to see a smaller proportion of our populations take advantage of higher education," Nesiba said [Angela Kennecke, "SD Second Highest Percentage Of Grads With Student Loan Debt,", 2014.11.14].

Dr. Nesiba recommends more debt forgiveness and/or more state support for higher ed. The Opportunity Scholarship might be one place to start: Kennecke reports that the Regents would like to boost that merit-based scholarship from $5,000 to $7,000, which would cost the state $1.6 million a year. Heck, recoup the money the EB-5 scammers pilfered from the state, and we could pay for that measly increase for 80 years. Heck, fees from just one EB-5 project would cover eight years of such scholarship support.

Or we could just get back to taking higher education seriously. Maybe the start should spend less money on trickle-down handouts to corporations and more on trickle-up seed money invested in our universities. Make college affordable for everyone, and we can produce a lot more graduates who can add a lot more value to our economy, not just with their Regentally fostered knowledge, skills, and critical thinking, but with all their immediate spending power that they can pour into cars and houses instead of student loan debt.


Senator Phil Jensen (R-33/Rapid City) has found a nice safe conservative bunker from which to fire his first post-election paranoia grenades. Senator Jensen says the state Board of Education is breaking a new state law that he co-sponsored in the 2014 Legislative session to deliver us from the evil of K-12 curriculum standards created in other states.

The law in question is SDCL 13-3-48.1, created by this year's Senate Bill 64, which reads in relevant part,

Prior to July 1, 2016, the Board of Education may not, pursuant to § 13-3-48, adopt any uniform content standards drafted by a multistate consortium which are intended for adoption in two or more states. However, this section does not apply to content standards whose adoption by the Board of Education was completed and finalized prior to July 1, 2014. However, nothing in this section prohibits the board from adopting standards drafted by South Dakota educators and professionals which reference uniform content standards, provided that the board has conducted at least four public hearings in regard to those standards [SDCL 13-3-48.1, enacted 2014.07.01].

The action in question is the creation of new science and social studies standards. Senator Jensen, similarly archly conservative Rep. Elizabeth May (R-27/Kyle), and some Common Core opponents went to the Board of Education meeting Monday to say those new standards are linked to Common Core. According to the intrepid Bob Mercer, the standard opponents used words like “communist,” “evolution,” “leftist,” “climate change” and “environmentalism” in their expressions of opposition.

Never mind that the South Dakota teachers who worked on the social studies standards read SDCL 13-3-48.1, read a lot of documents, and drafted their own darn standards:

Much of the proposal is based on the state’s existing standards, but the revision committee injected old priorities with their own experience and new research, [DOE specialist Sam] Shaw said. The group also consulted the C3 Framework, a collaborative effort between states and the National Council for Social Studies to improve the rigor of social studies classes and align with the Common Core State Standards.

Lawmakers passed a two-year ban last year on the adoption of “any uniform content standards drafted by a multistate consortium which are intended for adoption in two or more states.”

Aware of the stipulation, the 2014 Social Studies Content Standards Revision Committee did not adopt the C3 Framework, instead using its philosophies to inform the standards-writing process, Shaw said.

“Anything we used was primarily for reference,” Shaw said. “Each and every individual standard was approved by the teachers” [Patrick Anderson, "Social Studies Standards Urge More Analysis," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.11.17].

And ditto the science standards:

The proposed science standards are unique to South Dakota and give flexibility to teachers at the local level, Shaw said.

Shaw and his fellow committee members used the Next Generation Science Standards as a framework for creating standards, but the components were made to fit South Dakota's education needs, Shaw said [Patrick Anderson, "State Science Standard Proposals Draw Concern," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.09.15].

Evidently when the Legislature forces teachers to engage in the charade of codifying all of their art into lengthy bullet-point standards documents, Senator Jensen and other conservative allies also expect teachers to ignore the vast body of knowledge, research, and paperwork already generated by their colleagues in other states and reinvent the standards wheel. (Senator Jensen is creating another moment in which South Dakota teachers will say to the Legislature, "You don't pay us enough to put up with this B.S.")

Senator Jensen said he's going to sic the Attorney General on the Board of Education for this violation, because oh my, an economic-development official scamming the state out of over $100 million on an illegal contract doesn't warrant lifting a finger, but teachers reading plans from other states need to be investigated right now!

Such is the nuttiness Senator Jensen and his fellow Republicans have in store for the 2015 Legislative session.


Rep. Kathy Tyler expands on my voting guide theme of electing Democrats to check one-party rule by explaining one of the greatest harms of letting Republicans run the Legislature: the unnecessary damage done to education. Rep. Tyler says that in her first term representing District 4, she has seen South Dakota has the wealth to improve education funding, but Republicans lack the courage to make that investment. She calls on us teachers to change that system:

We have a one party system in our state. That party does not put education as a priority. Candidates claim to be pro education, but their votes don’t show it. Many of their votes are ruled by the party. Quote by a Republican after a very ‘political’ day:  “You (the Democrats) can vote the way you want. We can’t always do that.”

You, as educators, have the power to change the state’s priorities—to put education where it belongs.  I realize that some may be happy with the status quo—you are close to retirement, you aren’t trying to support a family on your teaching income, you have a second job, you love your job and would work for any wage.  But think about the future of education in South Dakota; think about the teacher-less classrooms of the future; think about your children or grandchildren and their quality of education.

You can change the way South Dakota treats education and educators by your vote on Tuesday. Your vote for a new governor and Democrat legislators—a vote to get South Dakota back to a two party system and a vote for legislators who can and will prioritize education–is the start [Rep. Kathy Tyler, "A Letter to South Dakota Educators," Kathy's Corner, 2014.10.30].

Teachers, Indians, women—South Dakota needs all of you. Grab two friends, go vote now, and we can win.


Governor Dennis Daugaard likes to view himself as the state's top cheerleader. Everything in South Dakota is awesome, the Governor will say... at least when he's trying to recruit corporations to come prey on our workers and build his donor base.

But bring up our public schools, and Governor Daugaard puts away the pom-poms and says private schools are better:

In an interview last week with 100 Eyes Daugaard said: "You can't say that you won't obtain quality without high compensation. I was just at O'Gorman (High School). The teachers at O'Gorman are paid, as a group, less than the Sioux Falls School District. Their students achieve better" [Patrick Anderson, "Daugaard's Teacher Pay Comments Spark Response from Educators," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.10.27].

Them's fightin' words for Lennox teacher and debate coach Michael Larson, who recognizes the willful ignorance and deceit in Governor Daugaard's bogus comparison of public apples and private oranges:

The ignorance that Daugaard shows is that he thinks that the population at a private school like O'Gorman is the same as the population at Sioux Falls Washington.

At the private school that I taught many years ago, there was no special education department.  We didn't have IEPs.  Students whose needs that could not be met went to the public school in the town.  These students came from mostly stable homes.  The majority of them would be considered middle class families or high income families.  The overwhelming majority of the students were Caucasian.  That could not be said for the public school in Storm Lake, Iowa.  It is ridiculous to even think that the challenges faced by teachers in that school were the same as the ones I faced in the private school [Michael Larson, "Only Daugaard Could Pull Me Back In," Taking a Left Turn in South Dakota, 2014.10.27].

The South Dakota School Superintendents' Association responds a bit more gently, pointing out that better wages for teachers, just like better wages in other fields, allow us to compete for higher-quality applicants:

We agree that the goal of education is student achievement, not expenditure. However, as research clearly shows, the role of the teacher is crucial to high student achievement, and, if we want higher student achievement, we need to expend a little more to recruit and retain more quality teachers. As with other areas of workforce development in our state, low wages have impacted the number of available workers in general, and specifically, a shortage of teachers in our schools.

We agree that compensation does attract quality. As with all workforce development, on average, higher wages tend to attract a higher quality of worker—see healthcare, corporate America, Main Street South Dakota, and education. We recognize that internal motivation, a positive workplace environment, job satisfaction, and being appreciated for the job one does, all add to an entities’ ability to attract quality employees, but we all understand that higher wages attract quality candidates [Dan Leikvold, South Dakota School Superintendents Association, open letter, 2014.10.27].

Governor Daugaard, you know full well that public schools labor under very different circumstances from private schools. They have a different mission and require more inputs to achieve that mission. And you know full well that higher wages attract a larger pool of better-qualified candidates. Picking up the pom-poms and honestly cheering our public schools for once would be nice. But picking up your pen and writing a better budget for K-12 education would bring even more cheer.


District 28 Senate candidate Rep. Betty Olson (R-Prairie City) earned herself some media attention this week. It seems only fair that we give her opponent in the Senate race, Parade Democrat Oren Lesmeister, a little air time.

Hat, cattle, and mustache—Oren Lesmeister, Democratic candidate for District 28 Senate

Hat, cattle, and mustache—Oren Lesmeister, Democratic candidate for District 28 Senate

Lesmeister runs Fox Ridge Ag Supply in Parade, Dewey County, on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation east of Eagle Butte. He also raises wheat, sunflowers, corn and cattle on his patch of the high plains. He spoke to me Thursday from a motel room in Belle Fourche, about 150 miles from home. District 28 covers more territory than any other legislative district in the state: all of Dewey, Ziebach, Corson, Perkins, and Harding counties, most of Butte, and the northeast corner of Meade—14,700 square miles, almost a fifth of South Dakota, with about 3% of the state's population. He drove 235 miles just the preceding evening

That's sparse country to be out rustling up votes, but Lesmeister says campaigning is an "absolute blast," even for a Democrat campaigning in what Betty Olson's representation makes clear is hard right Republican country. Lesmeister reminds us that he comes from the eastern, reservation side of District 28, which leans Democrat. But even on the western side, where he says he gets skunk eye over that D in front of his name "every day," Lesmeister says he has great conversations with very "receptive" voters.

What do they talk about? Education funding comes up. Lesmeister says his school district, Eagle Butte, comes out better than others, since it receives a fair amount of impact aid from the federal government to make up for tribal land that doesn't pay property tax. But he looks around at the sprawling, far-flung school districts of District 28 and sees the state's "broken" funding formula failing to meet their needs. Lesmeister says we need more money for schools, but he's not proposing new taxes. He first wants to look at the hundreds of millions in sales tax exemptions as well as economic development handouts to corporations as sources of revenue to bolster our schools.

Lesmeister does talk taxes with his neighbors, particularly the agriculture productivity tax. In 2008, South Dakota revised its property tax to assess ag land not on the basis of land sale and rental values but an Olympic average (eight years, drop high and low) of crop prices and yields for comparable land. Lesmeister says that taxing ag land based on the corn or hay it could have produced according to past averages of neighbors' activity is like taxing a 40-story building for 200-stories: you could have built a taller skyscraper, so we're going to tax you as if you had!

Replacing that tax methodology is tricky, and Lesmeister wants to have more conversations with experts, but he'd rather return to assessing land on sale and rental value than keep the current system. At least with land sale prices, says Lesmeister, we're dealing with real numbers.

In general, Lesmeister says, the best tax reform would allow everybody to pay less. But he recognizes that we've got to pay for what we need. Nowhere is that tension more apparent than in road funding. He admires the efforts of Senator Mike Vehle (R-20/Mitchell) to find money to improve our roads. He praises Senator Vehle for pushing people to get beyond griping and propose real solutions. Lesmeister says the ugly reality is that federal funding will dwindle and that state and county governments will have to pick up more of the tab for getting from Buffalo to Timber Lake.

Lesmeister says we could take some of the pressure off our highways by expanding railroads. He doesn't favor state ownership, but he would support incentives for private industry to build more rail shipping capacity.

Lesmeister does not support the Keystone XL pipeline. He says laying pipe across South Dakota to ship North American oil out to the global export market doesn't do South Dakota a bit of good. He challenges the assertion that running against Keystone XL will do in Democrats; in his district, the tribes are strongly opposed to the pipeline, and folks in Bison and elsewhere along the Keystone XL route don't say much nice about the pipeline to Lesmeister. (Remember: Betty Olson thinks Keystone XL is just peachy, as do far too many other South Dakota legislators.) At the very least, Lesmeister says we should learn from examples in Wyoming and North Dakota and not let Big Oil walk all over us.

Lesmeister also talks Medicaid expansion with his District 28 neighbors. He says South Dakota will eventually accept the money being offered under the Affordable Care Act to cover low-income South Dakotans. We have to, says Lesmeister, in part to make up for the $14 million he says we'll lose in the coming year as our increasing state income lowers the federal aid we qualify for under existing Medicaid rules.

Lesmeister recognizes the need for economic development in his big corner of the state, on reservation and off. He says the major challenge to creating jobs in District 28 is not lack of workers or skills; contrary to certain prejudgments, Lesmeister says his neighbors on the Cheyenne River Reservation want to work. Simple geography makes it hard to lure businesses: Eagle Butte and Lemmon are a long way to ship inputs and outputs. Economic development needs to focus on improving and maintaining the infrastructure necessary to connect West River businesses to their suppliers and customers. Lesmeister says Northern Beef Packers would have been a great project to build in his neighborhood, given that it could have relied on local supply. (Hmm... EB-5 to benefit the reservations... don't forget that idea!)

I mention women's issues to Lesmeister, and he focuses on legal protections against domestic abuse and sex trafficking, an issue of particular concern for reservations near the proposed Keystone XL construction camps and the man camps of the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota. He doesn't propose new laws; he says we can protect women sufficiently by stepping up our enforcement of laws already on the books.

As for abortion rights, Lesmeister says he as a legislator should never decide such issues. He says he would resist legislative efforts to further curtail women's reproductive rights. "It's too big of an issue" for the Legislature to decide, says Lesmeister; any abortion legislation should go straight to the ballot so all South Dakotans can vote.

Lesmeister wants to talk about these issues and everything else on voters' minds right through Election Day. He invites his neighbors to give him a shout via his Facebook campaign page and his campaign phone (605-365-6856—yup, he said I could publish that). Ping him, ring him... Oren wants your thoughts and your vote on November 4!


Surely the South Dakota Board of Regents will spend some time at this week's meeting in Aberdeen discussing the suddenly prominent and politically potent Darley v. SDIBI litigation. But that discussion would be tucked away in the executive sessions on this week's agenda.

Not tucked away are the numerous information items the Regents will discuss, including...

1. The FY2014 Distance Education Report! Did you know that 22,533 students took 162,812 credit hours through distance courses during the last school year? SDSU and USD each claim about a third of those students; 8.1% of those distance learners were enrolled at DSU. SDSU and USD together also offer about two thirds of all distance-learning course sections, while BHSU offers almost as many as DSU, around 14%.

2. Earnings of Liberal Arts Majors! Yes, we're poor. Always will be. And won't care, because we are saving the world for wisdom and beauty.

Earnings by degree field and age for South Dakota and adjoining states, South Dakota Board of Regents report on Earnings of Liberal Arts Majors, October 2014.

Earnings by degree field and age for South Dakota and adjoining states, South Dakota Board of Regents report on Earnings of Liberal Arts Majors, October 2014. (Click to embiggen!)

3. Graduate Production in SDWINS Targeted Fields! The Regents tout their ability to respond to the market by cranking out the degrees that Governor Daugaard says the market wants.

Regental Grads by SDWINS Target GroupNotice that of the six categories identified as high-need areas for economic development, the Regents have seen increased interest in all but one: teaching. The number of Regental graduates in education has evidently dropped 14% under the Daugaard regime.

4. The SDBOR Strategic Plan! Expect discussion to revolve around just one goal out of the 20 for 2020 listed: by 2020, the Regents want to see the state's share of higher education funding rise from the current 37% to 50%. That's a pretty heavy lift; all you Republican appointees had better go home and help elect more Democrats!

Surely the Regents will want to focus their energies on those pressing educational issues and more and not be distracting by all the blame GOP Senate candidate Mike Rounds is trying to heap on them for the EB-5 mess. Perhaps the Regents should simply release all those yummy documents they have about EB-5 and let us sort through the evidence while they focus on running the universities.


I learn from the Patheos:Inklingations blog that USD philosophy professor Joseph Tinguely has penned a pointed riposte to his employer Governor Dennis Daugaard's persistent denigration of Tinguely's chosen field—philosophy—and the product he cranks out for the state—philosophy majors.

Professor Tinguely brands the Governor's declaration that philosophy majors are not profitable as "false" and "myth". Tinguely cites a Wall Street Journal chart (with data) showing that by midcareer, philosophy majors out-earn information technology grads. (Engineers are at the top; I look dolefully at my wife and note that education and religion majors are at the bottom.) Philosophy majors also rock grad school entrance exams.

Tinguely says philosophy majors' skills are fundamental to success:

These results are not surprising for anyone with the slightest knowledge of what professionally transferable skills a philosophy degree actually develops in its students. The ability to identify and formulate an argument for oneself and to communicate it clearly to others; the critical capacity to recognize assumptions and evaluate reasons; the confidence to express oneself in speech and in writing; these are not just skills required to do philosophy well, these are the very skills required to do any job well. Everyone is always “doing philosophy” whether she knows it or not, but only a regrettably few take upon themselves the discipline and responsibility of learning how to do it well [Joseph Tinguely, "Philosophy Degree Offers a Lifetime of Value," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.09.24].

I'd rather beat the Governor's anti-humanities tirade by pointing out there's more to life than money. But even if you stay in Governor Daugaard's cash-only paradigm, Tonguely shows that philosophy can profit everyone.


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