Governor Dennis Daugaard is proposing a juvenile corrections reform package that will impose net new costs on the state of about $2.9 million. The proposal doesn't seem like a bad idea.

But may I suggest a policy alternative... or better yet, if we don't want to play false dilemma, a policy complement? Let's do as Chicago did and give low-income kids summer jobs:

A couple of years ago, the city of Chicago started a summer jobs program for teenagers attending high schools in some of the city's high-crime, low-income neighborhoods. The program was meant, of course, to connect students to work. But officials also hoped that it might curb the kinds of problems — like higher crime — that arise when there's no work to be found.

Research on the program conducted by the University of Chicago Crime Lab and just published in the journal Science suggests that these summer jobs have actually had such an effect: Students who were randomly assigned to participate in the program had 43 percent fewer violent-crime arrests over 16 months, compared to students in a control group.

That number is striking for a couple of reasons: It implies that a relatively short (and inexpensive) intervention like an eight-week summer jobs program can have a lasting effect on teenage behavior. And it lends empirical support to a popular refrain by advocates: "Nothing stops a bullet like a job" [Emily Badger, "Chicago Gave Hundreds of High-Risk Kids a Summer Job. Violent Crime Arrest Plummeted," Washington post: Wonkblog, 2014.12.08].

Hmmm... 25 hours a week for 8 weeks at minimum wage... $2.9 million would pay 1,700 kids for their work. That's nearly three times the number of juveniles currently in JDC's custody.

The evidence says that if you put kids to work, they commit fewer crimes. Legislators, are you willing to put some money where the research is? Are you willing to include a jobs program in the Governor's juvenile justice reform initiative?

Tangential Reading: In other policy amendments, perhaps the Governor could put young people to work building bicycles. A new study finds the cycling industry is creating more jobs in Europe than Ford, GM, and Chrysler are creating in America.

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Bob Mercer notes that the Board of Regents is discussing several new and challenging goals for South Dakota's public university system. Among the four goals for 2020 is "Increase annual system research and contract expenditures to $150 million by 2020 to advance knowledge, enhance technology transfer, commercialization, and catalyze economic development."

If the Regents approve that goal, Dakota State University will have to play catch up. This spring, among the series of sackings ordered by interim-turned-permanent president David Borofsky, Dakota State University ousted its head of Sponsored Programs, the person who helps faculty identify, apply for, and manage research grants. My friend Mickie Kriedler did that job for several years and helped bring ten million dollars to campus, including the over six million federal dollars that created HealthPoint, which helped Annette Bosworth stay in business.

In a higher education environment where research funded by outside money instead of local tuition and tax dollars is the holy grail, I don't know what performance measures would outweigh ten million dollars. But whatever the case, DSU decided to shed success and experience and do without a grants coordinator all summer.

The job was posted on the SDBOR employment website on July 22 and remains open. How long it will take the Regents to attract a new go-getter to Madison is anyone's guess. But if the Regents are about to make going and getting research dollars an even higher priority, Dakota State University had bette speed up the search and fill that vital gap in its capabilities.

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CNBC takes away South Dakota's #1 ranking for business, and KELO-AM's Greg Belfrage, who inclines Daugaard-ward more than I, says our drop from #1 to #11 may say "less about South Dakota than it does about the accuracy and reliability of these endless media rankings."

Given that GOP-soothing grain of salt, let's look at CNBC's business rankings for our neighborhood in detail:

State NE MN ND SD IA WY MT
Overall 4 6 10 11 12 21 33
Cost of Doing Business 10 38 22 6 7 18 12
Economy 11 5 7 20 18 41 38
Infrastructure & Transportation 18 5 10 31 25 12 25
Workforce 16 30 8 6 37 18 46
Quality of Life 8 4 5 10 20 16 11
Technology and Innovation 40 11 49 50 29 46 45
Business Friendliness 3 15 7 2 9 8 42
Education 19 12 22 30 22 12 21
Cost of Living 21 28 12 16 12 33 25
Access to Capital 35 11 45 26 49 35 27

South Dakota's in a competitive neighborhood. Three of our neighbors are top-ten states. All but Wyoming are in the top half on the overall ranking.

Yeah, it looked better with just one 1. How're we gonna fix that?

Yeah, it looked better with just one 1.
How're we gonna fix that?

As I noted this morning in response to a Republican spokesman, South Dakota's weak points on this scorecard, three areas where every neighboring state outperforms us, are education, infrastructure, and technology and innovation. Hmmm... when we see happy rankings, we gloat, buy a banner in the Minneapolis airport, and tell businesses those rankings indicate good reasons to move to South Dakota. When we see grim rankings, do we pout? Do we ignore them? Or do we tell ourselves those rankings indicate good reason to fix South Dakota?

Why might we be lagging in those three categories? Consider that education, infrastructure, and technology and innovation are the three areas in CNBC's methodology where improving a state's score hinges most on doing something, on spending money. We can't deregulate our way to good schools and roads and inventors. Investing real money helps all of those things happen. And investing real money gives South Dakota lawmakers the willies.

Zooming back out the nationwide dataset, CNBC's rankings provide a chance to look for relationships. Which of the above factors go hand in hand, and which run appear to run opposite?

  • Rankings for business friendliness and the economy seem to have the least to do (mathematically, the lowest average correlations) with the other factors on CNBC's business scorecard.
  • The cost of living and the cost of doing business are, predictably, closely associated (on a scale of 0 for no relationship to 1 for perfect relationship, the two factors correlate at 0.88).
  • The next strongest correlation is between tech/innovation and access to capital (0.66). Again, we'd expect that: folks starting more high-tech businesses and pumping out more patentable inventions probably have more venture capitalists around to support their efforts, along with the state resources that CNBC considers.
  • Rankings for quality of life and cost of living have a notable relationship, but it's negative (–0.62). Read this carefully: states ranking higher for quality of life tend to have lower rankings for cost of living. For instance, Hawaii is #1 for quality of life but 49th (as in worse, more expensive) for cost of living. Kentucky is #1 (as in best, cheapest) cost of living but 42nd for quality of life. Hmm... does money buy at least a little happiness?
  • None of the other correlations on the grid crack 0.60 (which is an arbitrary cut-off, but hey, a blogger has to take a break somewhere, right?), but education shows two mild correlations of interest. Seven of the top ten states for education (New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Vermont) are among the ten states with the highest business costs (taxes, utilities, commercial rent, etc.). Six of the states with the lowest business costs (Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi, Idaho, and South Carolina) are in the bottom ten for education. A similar pattern arises from the rankings of education and cost of living: states where folks pay more to get by tend to have better-ranked education systems.

CNBC's state business rankings may be just one more arbitrary set of numbers, to ignore or embrace as fits the narrative of our choice. But if we embrace those numbers as signs that South Dakota is doing well, we should consider giving them equal consideration when they point to things we can fix. And the things CNBC says we need to fix—our schools, roads, and research and development—won't fix themselves. Just as in business, if we want to grow, if we want to get back to #1, we have to invest.

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Bee colonies have been dying at alarming rates over the last few years. Things are so bad that South Dakota's 93 commercial beekeepers (and everyone else who likes to eat and thus needs bees to pollinate crops along with making honey) have to consider it "hopeful" news that only 23% of bee colonies collapsed last year, compared to 30% the year before. 18.9% die-off is considered the threshold for profitability. Ugh.

So what is decimating the bee colonies? This industry newsletter lists the following possibilities:

Bee health is impacted by a variety of stresses, such as viruses and other pathogens, parasites like varroa mites, problems of nutrition from lack of diversity in pollen sources, and even pesticides combining to weaken and kill bee colonies, said Jeff Pettis, research leader of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Bee Research Laboratory in Beltsville, Md [Allison Floyd, "More Bee Colonies Survived This Winter, Survey Shows," Growing South Dakota, 2014.05.16].

Did you notice that we mention that one human cause, pesticides, last in the list? New research from Harvard suggests we should move widely used neonicotinoid pesticides to the front of the line:

...a new Harvard study fingers neonics as the key driver of colony collapse disorder. The experiment couldn't have been simpler. Working with nearby beekeepers, Harvard researcher Chensheng Lu and his team treated 12 colonies with tiny levels of neonics and kept six control hives free of the popular chemicals. All 18 hives made it through summer without any apparent trouble. Come winter, though, the bees in six of the treated hives vanished, leaving behind empty colonies—the classic behavior of colony collapse disorder. None of the six control hives experienced a CCD-style disappearing act, although one did succumb to a common-to-bees gut pathogen called nosema [Tom Philpott, "Did Scientists Just Solve the Bee Collapse Mystery?" Mother Jones, 2014.05.20].

Neonicotinoid producer Bayer disputes the findings, of course... because they have a product to sell and shareholders to keep rich.

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Farmer and pheasant-hunt host David Gillen opines in the Pierre Capital Journal that the Conservation Reserve Program is bad for pheasants and South Dakota wealth:

Full 160-acre tracts of CRP are not that desirable for young chicks. After a couple years of CRP that is not cut for hay, the amount of plant growth present is too thick for the young chicks to move through. If we get a cold, wet rain or heavy dew when the chicks are small, they get too cold from all the wet plant material around them. The hen will try to move them to an open area for sunshine, but in the large CRP fields, sometimes it is too far to an open area to get warmed up from the sun.

...Pheasant hunting and profitable agriculture creates new wealth in this state for all of us to prosper. CRP destroys wealth by taking tax dollars from people that generate income and pays landowners to idle land that could create new wealth through agriculture [David Gillen, "What You Should Know About CRP: A Farmer's Perspective," Pierre Capital Journal, 2013.12.23].

Gillen serves as a manager at Prairie Ethanol, and he's been president of the South Dakota Corn Growers Association and a board member of the American Coalition for Ethanol. Gillen defends an industry that has done enormous harm to the prairie with its voracious push for ditch-to-ditch, stream-to-stream cultivation of every acre a tractor can reach.

But let's counter Gillen's industry-boosting anecdote with scientists and research. CRP means more pheasants:

More than 800,000 ha of Iowa farmland were enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) from 1986–1991. I evaluated the relationship between CRP enrollment and ring-necked pheasants (Phasianus colchicus) in Iowa and how cropland and weather affected that relationship. Six percent of the land area in Iowa was enrolled in the CRP between 1986 and 1991. Pheasant numbers increased 30% during the first 5 years of the CRP compared to a similar period before the program began (P = 0.026). Numbers increased 34% (P = 0.018) in counties with >70% cropland and 26% (P = 0.12) in counties with 50–70% cropland. I did not detect increases in counties with <50% cropland (P = 0.71). Pheasant numbers were positively related to the CRP, but this function was also influenced by percent cropland and cumulative snowfall [Terry Z. Riley, "Association of the Conservation Reserve Program with Ring-Necked Pheasant Survey Counts in Iowa," Wildlife Society Bulletin, Vol. 23, No. 3 (Autumn, 1995), pp. 386-390].

CRP means more than just pheasants for Gillen's customers to pay to shoot at:

"Goodness, there's thousands of species that live in grasslands, including several hundred species of higher plants," says Carter Johnson, an ecologist at South Dakota State University in Brookings, S.D. Plus, permanent grass cover keeps soil from washing away.

"With those deeps roots that grasses have, and thick thatch, the water has a hard time getting a hold of the soil," says Johnson.

So more land in CRP means cleaner streams, less fertilizer runoff and more carbon stored in the soil [Dan Charles, "Grasslands Get Squeezed as Another 1.6 Million Acres Go into Crops," NPR, 2013.12.22].

Additionally:

In the central USA, more than 90 bird species were documented using CRP plantings during summer breeding periods, with direct evidence of nesting by more than 40 species. Direct comparisons of crop and CRP fields revealed no differences in total number of species occurring in the two habitat types. But CRP fields supported from 1.4 to 10.5 times the number of individual birds as did crop fields. Nest abundance was from 8.8 to 27 times higher in CRP fields than in crop fields. Nest success of songbirds was slightly higher in CRP fields (40%) than in crop fields (36%). Overall, CRP fields produced about 14 times as many songbirds as did rowcrop fields. Several assessments suggest nongame bird populations increased because of the CRP. Duck nesting in cropfields is uncommon. Duck nest densities in CRP fields were similar to those occurring in habitats managed for waterfowl. Duck nest success in CRP fields was equal to or higher than that on lands managed by public agencies for waterfowl. Ring-necked pheasant numbers were three to five times higher after CRP plantings were established. The success of pheasants nesting in CRP fields was greater than that necessary for population growth [Mark R. Ryan, Loren W. Burger and Eric W. Kurzejeski, "The Impact of CRP on Avian Wildlife: A Review," Journal of Production Agriculture, 1998. 11:61–66.].

Gillen's anecdote sounds plausible—wide tracts with dense ground cover may not be ideal for pheasants in wet conditions—but the research seems pretty clear that CRP acres increase bird numbers.

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Todd Epp is working on a business plan for a new regional news service, Northern Plains News. I'm helping him, just a little, so I'm happy to promote a little market research Epp is doing. Epp wants to know how you get your news and whom you trust.

The survey itself is pretty simple: three simple, non-traceable demographic questions (unless you live in Junius or Redig), then questions about which South Dakota newspapers, TV stations, and radio stations you trust for news. (Epp does not survey blogs, because we all know that if it's on the Internet, it must be true.)

If you have a couple minutes over lunch, give the survey a click, and help Todd Epp figure out how to fit his new news venture into the South Dakota mediasphere.

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Governor Dennis Daugaard and his fellow Republicans have had a year to stew over the stinging referendum defeat of their really bad education reform bill. They left the public schools mostly alone this year, saddling our K-12 schools only with an immoral, counter-evidential school gunslinger bill that no one but one misguided private school superintendent seems keen on implementing.

But having caught their breath and facing an election year, might our legislators return to Pierre this winter to take more potshots at public education?

Wage a pre-emptive strike: send your legislators this Slate summary of a couple books that put the lie to the usual Republican/corporate privatizer attacks on our well-performing public education system.

First, Diane Ravitch's new book Reign of Error challenges the false crisis privatizing "reformers" manufacture to make us think we can't stick with the status quo. The current system, says Ravitch, is working much better than "reformers" must have you believe:

Exhibit A in the sky-is-falling argument is the claim that test scores are plummeting. Ravitch shows that, quite the contrary, scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the nation’s report card, have never been higher. (The biggest gains in NAEP scores were recorded before the No Child Left Behind Act, with its fixation on teacher accountability and high-stakes testing, was implemented.) Nor do American students perform as badly as advertised on international exams—in 2011 tests of math and science, only a handful of countries did better. There’s no new dropout problem—students are staying in high school longer, and six-year graduation rates have never been higher [David L. Kirp, "The Wrong Kind of Education Reform," Slate, 2013.09.04].

Even if there were a crisis, the solutions privatizing corporatists propose to raid the public wealth and strangle public schools don't work. Vouchers and charter schools don't perform any better than public schools, say Sarah and Christopher Lubienski in The Public School Advantage:

...[A]s with the supposed crisis in public education, faith that turning education over to the private market can provide the solution doesn’t fit the facts. Perhaps the most startling finding in The Public School Advantage is that the autonomy of private and charter schools—the attribute so prized by the market advocates—may really be getting in the way of their improvement. Rather than taking advantage of their freedom by being creative in how they teach math, many private schools still use an outmoded pedagogy that stresses memorizing formulas, not problem-solving. And instead of using their autonomy to become better, they invest in marketing that’s designed to attract the easiest-to-educate students.

These are generalizations, of course, which don’t describe any particular school, and some charters, like the KIPP and YES Prep schools, are exemplary. But the clear takeaway from the Lubienskis’ research is that choice may actually cause more problems than it solves [Kirp, 2013.09.04].

The idea that these arguments will sway our legislators to protect public education hinges on the assumption that they will spend as much time reading real books and research as they do browsing the buffets the lobbyists lay out for them in Pierre. But one can hope.

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Speaking of corporate fascism, big dairies are getting another government handout from South Dakota. Planning and Development District III is spending taxpayer dollars to identify good locations in its 16-county jurisdiction for mega-dairies and other concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

Oops—make that 13 counties. Yankton County is one of three PD3 members with the good sense to say no to doing capitalists' work for them:

Commissioner Allen Sinclair cited such concerns in opposing the idea of PDIII conducting the study on behalf of the state.

“I don’t think that a County Commission should be out there identifying sites for any commercial activity,” he said. “It’s for the people doing the activity to do their own homework. They should be the ones identifying sites. I’m going to have a real problem endorsing a County Commission activity of this nature.”

Sinclair said the County Commission should become only become involved through the zoning process. Even if it is only giving permission for a study, that could be seen by some as an endorsement of sites identified in the research during a zoning dispute in the future.

“It’s a business deal, and the business people behind it, whether they are banks or the Ag Department, can do any type of study they want to do,” Sinclair said. “But don’t involve the County Commission until you’re bringing it to us for a thumbs up or down based on our rules and regulations” [Nathan Johnson, "County Declines to Join in Ag Study," Yankton Press & Dakotan, 2013.07.02].

Our state already spends too many tax dollars to favor a handful of big businesses. Yankton County isn't shutting the door on state-subsidized CAFOs (though it should!), but at least it is telling the big dairy and feedlot operators to do their own market research.

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