Surprise! Just when you thought the Legislature was done debating Common Core, Rep. Dan Kaiser (R-3/Aberdeen) pulls a smoke-out!

On Wednesday, House Education killed House Bill 1223, which seeks to end South Dakota's involvement with Common Core and related multistate curriculum standards. On the House floor yesterday, Rep. Kaiser invoked Joint Rule 7-7 to demand delivery of HB 1223 to the House.

Rep. Kaiser contended the bill did not receive a fair hearing. He said House Education "was subjected to at least three presentations from all folks who are... pro-Common Core" while Common Core opponents were not allowed the same opportunity.

House Education Chair Rep. Jacqueline Sly (R-33/Rapid City) replied that the committee dedicated an entire, two-hour hearing on HB 1223 and gave proponents and opponents equal time. Rep. Sly noted that neither the proponents nor opponents used their full forty minutes in that hearing. She said the presentations cited by Rep. Kaiser would have been the same whether HB 1223 had come forward or not.

Rep. Kaiser got 24 House members to stand for his smokeout; that's the one third necessary under Joint Rule 7-7 to order delivery from committee. House Ed thus had to quick circle up in the lobby and conduct an impromptu vote to so deliver the bill.

The anti-Common Core folks lost one of their committee votes: Rep. Mathew Wollmann (R-8/Madison) voted to keep HB 1223 alive in Wednesday's hearing, but yesterday voted with the committee majority to send the bill downstairs with a "Do Not Pass" recommendation.

We went through this same process last year, when House Ed rejected an anti-Common Core test-exemption bill 8–7, only to see it smoked out for one more brief and fruitless wrangle on the House floor. One source tells me the House will take up this smokeout next week Tuesday; we'll see if this smoke generates any better flames this time around.

Update 2015.02.21 06:26 CST: added video of Rep. Kaiser's smokeout speech.

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I am now batting .000 as a bill proponent. I came to Pierre this morning to testify in favor House Bill 1223, which would have ended South Dakota's involvement with the Common Core standards and with any "multistate educational standards related to, similar to, or associated with" Common Core. Rep. Chip Campbell (R-35/Rapid City) brought the billon behalf of Common Core opponents, and amidst of all of the conservative activists surrounding me, Rep. Campbell chose me to give HB 1223 the liberal blog kiss of death first.

Wollmann, Kaiser, May, Klumb—believe it or not, these four Republicans all voted my way on HB 1223.

Wollmann, Kaiser, May, Klumb—believe it or not, these four Republicans all voted my way on HB 1223.

Leaving my ideology at my chair, I simply told the committee what I've said before about Common Core: state-mandated standards don't make teachers better. They take up time and effort that could be devoted to working directly with students. By eliminating Common Core, legislators could help teachers without spending a penny.

Other proponents of HB 1223 spoke more ideologically, and dare I say more emotionally. Dale Bartscher of the Family Heritage Alliance said HB 1223 reinforces state and family sovereignty. He also said his group was open to an amendment to replace Common Core with other external standards (psst! Dale! Were you listening to me? The point is that any external standards become paperwork exercises in plugging existing good practices into the latest faddish rubric and nomenclature.)

Cindy Peterson of Chamberlain said, "Human children... are not and can never be standard," Peterson said. "Any attempt to standardize learning... is doomed to failure, at the expense of the child." She then read a letter from Lane Larson, a teacher from Pukwana, who wrote that she had been afraid to speak for fear of losing her job. Larson quit teaching because she saw Common Core was not developmentally appropriate for young children.

Mark Chase of the Family Policy Council took the mic to say that a man from Mongolia had told him that Common Core was "what we had under Soviet Communist reign." Common Core, said Chase, is designed to "break your kids down and make them compliant with the State."

Common Core opponent Mary Scheel-Buysse said she has heard teachers complain that Common Core is "working kids like dogs." She said teachers had told her that administrators had forbidden them to do spelling lists with third graders and multiplication drills with fourth graders.

Linda Schauer of South Dakota's Concerned Women for America office quoted George Will to make Common Core sound like the Affordable Care Act: "If you like your curriculum, you can keep it."

For those of you scoring at home, consider that this liberal blog author stood shoulder to shoulder with the Family Heritage Alliance, the Family Policy Council, and the Concerned Women for America. (The word syzygy jumps to mind.)

The education establishment of South Dakota then proceeded to crush us with gusto. If they spoke with notable vehemence, it may come from having dealt with arguments about Common Core one too many times for their taste. Or, as some of my lunch companions observed, maybe it was just arrogance.

Whatever it was, it came hard. Secretary of Education Melody Schopp said a blind survey found over 80% of South Dakota math and language arts teachers say Common Core is appropriate and will increase student achievement. She said if any administrators are banning spelling and multiplication, they aren't following Common Core.

Secretary Schopp also ran this lovely circular argument: since Common Core is in effect, stopping it would cause all sorts of upheaval. State law requires that we have statewide standards, so we'd have to throw ourselves into a fast cycle of developing new standards and tests and retraining teachers. The universities would have to retool all of their teacher education programs. All that change would be bad for teachers and students, so we can't change.

In other words, we can't change the machine because we can't change the machine. And since HB 1223 doesn't offer a new machine, it's bad. Never mind that I'm not convinced we even need a machine.

The Associated School Boards, the Board of Regents, the Superintendents Association, the Education Association, the Large School Group, and the United Schools Association all backed the Secretary. Common Core opponents are acting from unfounded political fears (hmm... where was my political argument?). They are "astounded" at statements likening Common Core and the Soviets (as am I, Mark!). Lobbyist Dianna Miller said most of this opposition comes from the Internet, and "you can post anything on the Internet" (true, and thank goodness for that liberty!). SASD's Rob Monson said that just last weekend he checked his fourth grade son's spelling list, and no Common Core cops busted him (that, Rob, was an awesome rhetorical point).

Before the hearing, even the proponents suspected HB 1223 was headed for quick death. But with no other bills on the House Education agenda, HB 1223 got just over two hours. The indefatigable committee members loaded both sides with questions. Even when they closed questions, they didn't go immediately to death for the bill. Rep. Roger Hunt (R-25/Brandon) offered an amendment to remove the vague "similar to" from Section 2, saying that wording would prevent the state from adopting any standards (which, again, Rep. Hunt, might not be so bad!). That amendment passed, and Rep. Hunt moved "do pass." Rep. Joshua Klumb (R-20/Mount Vernon) said he likes standards, but he's still afraid "the government is coming" and urged folks who don't like Common Core to "seek alternative education" (code, shades of Graves, for "send your kids to private school and homeschool and kill public education!"). Finally fed up with the foolishness, Rep. Tim Johns (R-30/Lead) moved to table HB 1223, which parliamentarily is what you do when you want to shut down the debate and be done.

And we were done... but just by an 8–7 vote. My head counters said it looked more like 11–4 vote before the hearing.

The three Democrats on House Ed all voted to kill HB 1223. Seven Republicans, including Rep. Elizabeth May (R-27/Pine Ridge), who was just here yesterday saying this blog as "no creditability," voted the way I told them to. Apply your Common Core critical thinking skills to that flip.

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The Build Dakota Scholarship is now open to applicants! (Just be careful when you click: when I opened the new site, welding sparks flashed all over the place.) The scholarship board has decided to spend $25 million of T. Denny Sanford's money and $25 million of our money to subsidize vo-tech degrees in the following eight industry areas:

  1. automotive
  2. building trades/construction
  3. energy technicians
  4. engineering technicians
  5. licensed practical nursing
  6. medical lab technicians
  7. precision manufacturing
  8. welding

(Two points off for lack of parallelism... but that's one of those liberal arts concepts Governor Daugaard says aren't worth our time....)

The BSD Eligible Programs List breaks those critical job fields down to specific degree/diploma programs at Southeast, Lake Area, Mitchell, and Western Dakota. But wait, no counseling? I hear counseling is critical job skill for all sorts of workers:

When state Rep. Lynne DiSanto was attending Chadron State College in Nebraska years ago, eventually earning a bachelor’s degree in business and a master’s degree in counseling, she never knew how those studies would impact the rest of her life.

Today, just a few weeks into her first term as a state legislator, DiSanto now knows that her college preparation has proven invaluable.

“That type of degree in counseling is never wasted, especially in the business world,” said the 38-year-old mother of three from Rapid Valley. “The things you learn about relating to people and understanding people has definitely helped me in the Legislature. It’s critical to understand what’s important to people, including your constituents of course, but your other legislators as well,” DiSanto added. “You learn to talk to people in a way that they understand and that makes sense to them” [Tom Griffith, "DiSanto Jumps into Lawmaking with Vigor in First Term," Rapid City Journal, 2015.02.15].

Empathy, understanding, communication skills... I don't know, Lynne. That all sounds pretty liberal artsy-fartsy to me. Almost downright philosophical. It's a good thing South Dakota's focusing on making good solid practical education free for welders and car fixers, not folks who sit around talking about feelings. Help Build South Dakota with practical jobs—apply today!

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Mitchell school superintendent Dr. Joseph Graves admits that he's ambivalent about Governor Dennis Daugaard's proposed summer study of education... which, for a guy who has flacked for the Governor's worst policy whims, could be read as stern condemnation.

But I'm not fooled. Graves cocks an eyebrow at the summer study, then returns to his usual form of giving us darn teachers both barrels. Check out the ink Graves devotes to thinking up ways to make sure that, even if we decide we can pay teachers more, we sure as heck won't pay more teachers:

Alternatively, there may be other options for increasing average teacher compensation levels other than the straightforward and endlessly offered by educators and their lobbyists: give the schools more so they can pay teachers more. If schools, for example, were to present more online coursework and more virtual offerings, costs would decline and current revenues could be used to enhance teacher pay. If the state were to offer tax incentives for parents enrolling their children in private schools or homeschooling their progeny, the resulting savings from more parents choosing such alternatives could be used to increase the per pupil support of students who remained in traditional classrooms [Joseph Graves, "Don't Meet Me in the Middle," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2015.02.16].

Online classes make costs decline by allowing schools to cut teachers from the payroll. Ditto Dr. Graves's private/homeschool scenario: incentivize draining public school enrollment, force public schools to lay off teachers, then split the savings between the remaining public school teachers and the ongoing subsidies for largely religious education. Graves is simply roadmapping a plan to increase pay for fewer teachers and further weaken one of the few bastions of labor power and intellectual opposition in South Dakota. It's policy dreck but political genius.

But since teachers like me call his proposal dreck, Graves says we're to blame for political resistance to higher teacher pay:

Yet educators don't typically endorse such proposals, leaving us open to the criticism that we endorse only the idea of giving us more money with no changes in how we do things and no rules on how we spend it. This view of educators is reinforced by the fact that we have had our hands out to the Legislature, demanding more money, every year since Dakota was a territory [Graves, 2015.02.16].

I'm curious, Dr. Graves: what do we have to change to justify our continual requests not to be last in the nation in teacher pay? What extra work do teachers do in Minnesota, Iowa, Wyoming, and Montana to earn more pay than teachers in South Dakota? What new rules must we adopt from every other state in the country that would finally warrant pay parity?

So is that image of our state's educators as woe-is-me mendicants due to the fact that we are starving, or because we are mulish monoliths refusing to engage in more efficient means of serving students? [Graves, 2015.02.16]

Short answer, Joe: we are starving. If your long alternative were correct, we would have to accept that we monolithic mules have been uniquely wasteful for our state's entire history, and that our Legislature and school boards have responded not by rooting out that waste and hiring good, efficient teachers but by simply depressing teachers wages to the lowest level in the nation. In Graves's excuse-iverse, South Dakota's leaders must be more interested in standing in the mud whipping their mules than in buying good horses and getting to town.

Dr. Graves wants to address the teacher shortage by getting rid of teachers. I unambivalently reject his plan and mulishly stick my own: fix the teacher shortage by paying teachers more.

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The Presidents' Day crackerbarrel in Redfield drew a good comment from a local school board member who would like the Legislature to help his district recruit more teachers.

The Legislature currently has two competing rural teacher recruitment proposals. House Bill 1092 would pay for paraprofessionals currently working in rural districts to get their teaching degrees. Senate Bill 144 would reimburse any new teacher who starts her or his career in a rural school district. À la Northern Exposure, both bills expect the new recruits to teach in rural districts for five years. HB 1092 pays the tuition up front; SB 144 reimburses tuition costs after the third, fourth, and fifth years of rural teaching.

The Redfield school board member noted a crucial difference between the bills' definition of rural. Under HB 1092, a qualifying district must have "fall enrollment of six hundred or less." SB 144 says "rural school district" means "located in a community with a population of ten thousand persons or less."

The Redfield Pheasants number about 650. HB 1092 would leave them out. Redfield's population is shy of 2,400. SB 144 would reimburse new teachers who went to Redfield.

Obviously, the Redfield school board would prefer that the Legislature enact SB 144 over HB 1092. You'd better start shouting, Redfield (and Milbank, and Madison!): HB 1092 is ahead, having cleared committee and House floor, while SB 144 is languishing in Senate Appropriations.

But hang on: check that SB 144 definition again:

"Rural school district," a school district located in a community with a population of ten thousand persons or less [Senate Bill 144, South Dakota Legislature, posted 2015.01.28].

Located in a community of 10,000 or less? What does community mean there? Does it mean the town in which the school sits? Or does it mean the entire school district, town and country? Either way, Redfield's good under SB 144, but school districts and the Legislature will want to know the exact definition and the full list of qualifying districts arising therefrom before passing SB 144.

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I tell people that I have a girl brain, a boy body.

—Jazz Jennings, I Am Jazz, 2012

Two bills attacking transgender student-athletes are enjoying more success than they should in the South Dakota Legislature. Last week, House Bill 1161, which prohibits the South Dakota High School Activities Association from making policy pertaining to sexuality or gender identity, passed House Education on a 9–6 vote. The House deferred HB 1161 Thursday, perhaps because it had already approved the markedly worse House Bill 1195, which not only repeals the SDHSAA's gender-choice rules but mandates athlete gender be determined by birth certificate first, physical exam second. HB 1195 passed the House 51–16 Wednesday.

Democrats remain the consistent and unified defenders of gender fairness. In the votes above, Dems have been joined by Republican Reps. Steve Hickey, Thomas Holmes, Tim Johns, Herman Otten, Tona Rozum, Kyle Schoenfish, and Jacqueline Sly.

When the Minnesota State High School League debated its transgender policy last December, MinnPost interviewed Jazz Jennings, a 14-year-old who was born a boy but who identifies as a girl and competes on her high school's soccer, tennis, and track teams.

Her high school—I have to admit, my gut tries to put quote marks or an asterisk on that pronoun. I hear Jazz say girl brain, boy body, and I can't quite get my boy brain, wired to boy parts, around it. How can that be? What you see is what you get—how can we differ from the visible, physical reality in front of us?

I suppose I don't have to get as esoteric as atomic theory, relativity, or quantum physics to say that my daily experience does not describe, let alone set norms for, everyone else's. There are South Dakotans whose minds and bodies and junctions therebetween aren't like mine. The minor tedium I feel when I'm stuck sitting with guys talking football is nothing like the outright angst that some of my students feel when they are forced to play with the boys when every fiber of their soul says, "But I'm one of the girls!" To negate by law their gender identity is all the more oppressive and cruel.

I may not personally understand a disconnect between who my pants say I am and who my brain and heart say I am, but I understand that the world is more complicated than my limited experience. I also understand that I can be who I am without expecting, let alone demanding by law, that everyone else be like me.

Legislators, if you're struggling with the urge to impose your genetic predisposition on everyone else as "normal," watch this documentary about Jazz Jennings... then pull the plug on House Bills 1161 and 1195, and let the Activities Association and the schools handle this issue in the best interest of their students.

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The Student Federation, representing elected student governments from all of South Dakota's public universities, is seeing some success for the bills for which it lobbied during Higher Education Days last week.

  • Senate Bill 91, funding for the Regental needs-based scholarship, is still alive, although Senate Appropriations had to wipe out the specific dollar figure to keep the bill in play.
  • Ditto for Senate Bill 92, funding for the critical teaching needs scholarship.
  • House Bill 1147, the Governor's proposal to increase the Opportunity Scholarship from $5,000 to $6,500, made it out of House Appropriations intact. The bill doesn't mention the $1.274 million that increase will cost; legislators can vote for it and let the scholarship default to the statutory prorated amount if existing funding can't support the new maximum amount.
  • I'm not sure how the tuition freeze is faring; Senate Bill 181 appears to have been lost in the shuffle in Thursday's Senate Appropriations hearing.

The Legislature is flatly ignoring the testimony of the Student Federation on House Bill 1206, which would allow students 21 and older to carry concealed weapons on campus. Most students agree that school is no place for guns. The gun-tooting (if no -toting?) members of House Local Government voted 8–5 to say sure, let's open the door to guns at our universities. (Augustana, Dakota Wesleyan, stay gun-free, and you have a recruiting pitch to make here.) Northern State University's Student Association sent out this call to action, not arms, to its campus Friday:

Despite strong testimony from the Board of Regents and the South Dakota Student Federation, the House Local Governance [sic] Committee passed House Bill 1206, which would allow the concealed carry of pistols on public university campuses. As NSU Student Association we voted unanimously to oppose this bill, as it takes away the local control from the Board of Regents and the individual universities. The presence of guns around heated discussions and alcohol will lead to tragic consequences. Please contact your legislators to oppose this bill.... [G]uns should not be present in our classrooms, student center, or anywhere else on campus [Menno Schukking, NSU Student Association Vice President, e-mail to Northern State University campus community, 2015.02.13].

The Florida, Texas, and Montana legislatures are advancing similar campus-concealed-carry bills. Speaking to the Florida bill, Daniel W. Webster of the Johns Hopkins University for Gun Policy and Research says allowing more guns on campus will lead to more gun violence:

“The bill is obviously based on the idea that a) college students are sitting ducks for individuals who carry out mass shootings on college campuses because campuses are “gun free zones” and b) good guys or gals with guns can save themselves and others by taking out the shooters,” Webster says in an e-mail statement.

In reality, he says, those instances are extremely rare, and college campuses — where students are almost constantly surrounded by stressors, violent behavior and substance abuse, along with the development of schizophrenia or other mental disorders — aren’t the place to house lethal weapons.

Webster also says that in cases of a potentially lethal attack, students are just as likely to shoot innocent bystanders in the melee of a shoot-off as they are to shoot the attacker, as is sometimes the case even with trained police officers.

More importantly, an “across-the-board” law like SB 0176 would prevent students from being able to make a decision about whether or not to attend a school where concealed guns are legal.

“Very few academics or academic administrators want students carrying concealed firearms on campus and most strongly oppose such policies,” Webster says.

“The best research on the impact of so-called Right-to-Carry laws has shown that the policies do not deter violent crime but simply lead to more gun violence. I have no reason to believe that this finding wouldn’t hold for the college campus environment” [Morgan baskin, "Florida State Senate to Vote on Concealed Carry Weapons Bill," USA Today, 2015.02.13].

Idaho lifted the ban on concealed weapons on its university campuses in 2014. In response, the Idaho university system is now spending $3.7 million to beef up security, with no additional funding from the state government that imposed these costs.

$3.7 million—that would pay for the increases in all three scholarships and half of the tuition freeze South Dakota's Student Federation advocates. Instead, South Dakota's House Local Government Committee would rather make them pay for an increased security risk, just to maintain legislators' NRA ratings.

Bonus Wishful Thinking Over Facts: In Thursday's House Local Government hearing, Rep. Lee Qualm repeated the cliché, "The only way to get rid of a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

Brian Roesler, the man who stopped the workplace shooting in Lennox Thursday, ran right at the shooter and tackled him. Roesler did not have a gun.

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During the Senate Judiciary hearing on Senate Bill 162 Thursday, Senator Brock Greenfield (R-2/Clark) said he had patterned his plan to arm certain legislators to play security guard after the 2013 school gunslinger bill. Then-Rep. Greenfield thought it was a good idea to distract teachers and put students at risk by bringing more guns to school, so why not apply the same logic to the Capitol?

Senator Greenfield's effort to link his Capitol gunslinger bill to the school gunslinger (sorry—we're supposed to call them sentinels) bill inspired Senator Troy Heinert (D-26A/Mission) to ask a logical question:

Sen. Heinert to Greenfield: "Senator, do you know how many schools have used the school sentinel bill?"

Greenfield: "No, and I don't believe that information would be publicly available because of the confidentiality—er, Mr. Tieszen*, I saw three fingers sticking up."

Dick Tieszen, lobbyist, in audience: "No, that is a zero."

Greenfield: "Oh. Zero."

Chairman Craig Tieszen: "Senator Heinert?"

Heinert: "I do believe the answer is zero" [Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, South Dakota Legislature, Pierre, SD, 2015.02.12, timestamp 34:40].

After a question about current security measures in the Capitol, Senator Jeff Monroe (R-24/Pierre) contradicted Senator Heinert's and Dick Tieszen's statements that no one is using the school sentinel program:

Sen. Monroe: "The answer to the question, are any schools— have any schools enacted the sentinel bill, the answer is not zero, and for the confidentiality again, I'm not going to tell who. I just wanted to clear that up. That's all I had, Mr. Chairman."

Sen. Tieszen: "Senator Heinert?"

Heinert: "I'm not here to debate the good Senator from Pierre, but the answer is zero."

Sen. Tieszen: "All right, the debate stops. This is question time to start with. If you have a question, direct it to someone who testified. If not, we'll—discussion in a moment" [Senate Judiciary, 2015.02.12, timestamp 36:10].

Do some schools have sentinel gunslingers roaming their halls? And do confidentiality prevent them from telling us about that lurking danger to our children?

The answers, Mr. Chairman, are no and no. In reverse order:

Back in 2013, House Education amended the school gunslinger bill to keep discussion and implementation of the program secret in each school. Senate State Affairs quite sensibly eliminated that secrecy clause, thus requiring the House to vote on that bill again. Then-Rep. Greenfield cast an aye on that concurrence vote; had he cast an eye, he'd have known he was voting for a law that contains no confidentiality clause. Review SDCL 13–64, ARSD 2:01:15 and ARSD 2:01:16, the chapter and rules enacting and managing the school sentinel program, and you will not find a single clause saying that schools shall or may keep their use of the school sentinel provisions secret. Part of the 2013 bill, now SDCL 13-64-7 (you read this when you voted on it, right, Brock?), allows school district residents to refer implementation of the school sentinel program to a public vote, meaning the decision to implement is necessarily public.

That means that when I call a school district and say, "Got school sentinels?" they have to tell me. When I call the Attorney General's office to ask whether any schools have submitted applicants for school sentinel training and whether any applicants have taken and passed that training, the Attorney General's office can tell me numbers and maybe even names.

But the only number the Attorney General's office has is zero. I called yesterday, and spokesperson Sara Rabern confirmed that, since the enactment of training and certification rules on September 17, 2013, no schools have submitted applications, no school staff have come to Pierre for training, and no teachers or janitors or other school personnel are currently roaming our school halls as certified school sentinels. This fact is consistent with previous reports of skepticism and widespread condemnation of the school gunslinger program among school officials, as well as concerns that arming school staff would cause schools to lose their liability insurance.

I have contacted Senator Monroe to ask where he got his information to the contrary. I await his response.

Update 2015.02.15 11:18 CST: I originally reported, based on my listening to the SDPB audio of the hearing, that Senator Craig Tieszen had made the "zero" hand gesture and made the comment "No, that is a zero." Senator Tieszen informs us (see below in comment section) that that gesture and comment came not from him but from lobbyist Dick Tieszen, who was in the audience at the hearing. I have amended the above text to reflect Senator Tieszen's clarification, and I apologize for the error.

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