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.

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¡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 recruiting 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:

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House Bill 1116 goes before Senate Judiciary tomorrow morning alongside House Bill 1096. Both bills revise our concealed weapons permit laws. HB 1096 is the mellower of the two, clarifying how the background check for a concealed weapons permit will be conducted and tightening rules to keep immigrants from getting guns. House Bill 1116 goes much further, essentially declaring the concealed weapons permit superfluous and repealing all laws against walking around with a gun hidden in your britches and bras. HB 1116 includes the further absurdity (Section 7) of removing the restriction on giving concealed weapons permits to people who have violated South Dakota weapons laws.

If a gun bill is nuts, you can bet South Dakota Gun Owners is backing it. I read on Facebook the radical gun advocacy group is cold-calling to rouse support for HB 1116. Another friend forwards this SDGO letter backing HB 1116:

SDGO-HB1106-Feb2015

SDGO letter, Feb 2015, p. 1 (click to embiggen)

SDGO-HB1106-Feb2015-p2

SDGO letter, Feb 2015, p. 2 (click to embiggen)

 

Boy, I hope SDGO's gun aim is better than their rhetorical aim. This February 2015 letter contains three absurdities.

First, SDGO exec Ray Lautenschlager asserts that there is an "anti-gun crowd in Pierre." If there is anyone to whom one might apply this appellation in Pierre, they most certainly do not constitute a "crowd."

Second, Lautenschlager says, "The right to bear arms in self defense is absolutely vital." (Beware absolutes... but then what do we expect from a group whose letterhead boasts, "26 Years Without Compromise"?) "Why should a law-abiding citizen first ask permission from the government in order to defend themselves or their family?"

Two points off for failure of number agreement (a citizen... themselves or their family). Ten points off for misstating a question of law: No law-abiding citizens have to ask permission from the government in order to defend themselves or their families. If someone attacks my family, I can throw a punch, throw rocks, or throw my car into gear and get away very quickly. I can call the cops and my lawyer for proper civil protection. I can keep a gun in my house and even walk around town with my gun on my hip if that's what I think it takes to defend my family, all without government's permission.

What I can't do without a permit is sneak my gun into public spaces. When we turned to concealed weapons, we are no longer talking about an absolute right to self-defense. We are talking about surreptitious behavior with a deadly weapon amidst unsuspecting neighbors. If you crave that hazardous privilege, the state can make a case that it has a public interest in imposing the minimal intrusion, less than what we impose on folks driving cars on public roads, of asking you to pay a fee and get a permit so we have a chance to check your background.

Rephrasing Luke 22:36 for the well-armed generation. Click to debunk!

Rephrasing Luke 22:36 for the well-armed generation. Click to debunk!

Third, SDGO claims that HB 1116 will "restore the God-given rights of law-abiding South Dakotans to bear arms...."

I don't need to consult my Reverend wife to know that Jesus handed out bread and wine, not guns and ammo, at the Last Supper.

Rep. Dan Kaiser (R-3/Aberdeen), a co-sponsor of HB 1116, committed the same constitutional and theological errors in comments at Saturday's Aberdeen crackerbarrel:

Right now, you can legally open carry anywhere in South Dakota, so all of a sudden it’s illegal if your sport coat is over your pistol. The Second Amendment is clear — you have a right to bear and carry arms. I don’t understand how you can outline rights given to you by God and then you have to ask permission from the state to exercise those rights [Rep. Dan Kaiser, statement at crackerbarrel, reported by Bryan Howarth, "Lawmakers Debate Guns, Common Core," Aberdeen American News, 2015.02.22].

The right to bear arms exists in the national constitutions of three countries. Ours comes from a Bill of Rights written 226 years ago. It is far form a divine commandment.

The Second Amendment, like every other amendment, is not absolute. Nor is it Scripture. South Dakota Gun Owners should knock off their misrepresentations, and the South Dakota Legislature should leave our concealed weapons permitting process in place.

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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.

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Chuck Clement reads the USDA's latest report on Farms and Land in Farms and finds South Dakota lost 300 farms last year. That's a return to the long-term trend that South Dakota was briefly bucking: fewer farms, bigger operations.

37 states lost farms. 10 states held steady. Delaware, Nevada, and Wyoming added farms.

If we heard that South Dakota had lost 300 manufacturers, or 300 car dealers, or 300 construction contractors, we might hear some alarm. But hey, South Dakota has the same amount of land (43.3 million acres) in farms, 3% more cattle on feed, 4% more hogs and pigs, and more farms in the million-plus-value class. More machines, fewer Democrats—as long as the GDP numbers look good, what's there to fret about?

By the way, hired farm hands in the Northern Plains region (South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa) earn 17% more than the national average and 17% more than neighbors in the Lake Region (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan). We can pay hired hands more than the national average, but not teachers.

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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.

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Brendan Johnson, alas, is changing jobs. Kristi Noem, alas, is not.

Tony Mangan at KCCR runs two stories of nearly identical and minimal news value on the non-intentions of U.S. Attorney, soon-to-be-just-Citizen Johnson and Congresswoman Noem to run for the offices for which everyone else likes to speculate they are running. Johnson offers the firmer rejection of any political notions:

Brendan Johnson

U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson

Outgoing U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson says while others may be thinking about his political future, he is not.

Johnson announced Wednesday that he is resigning March 11 to go into private practice in Sioux Falls. Johnson, the son of retired Democratic U.S. Senator Tim Johnson, has long been rumored to be a possible candidate some day for a statewide office.

But Johnson, who has declined in the past to speculate about any such intentions, tells KCCR News that he is not now thinking about that possibility [Tony Mangan, "Johnson Not Thinking about Politics," KCCR Radio, 2015.02.19].

Rep. Noem actually announces her intention to re-up in 2016 and admits she's deciding whether to run for Governor in 2018:

Rep. Kristi Noem

Rep. Kristi Noem

U.S. Representative Kristi Noem says she has received encouragement to run for Governor in 2018, but says it will be some time before she makes a decision on whether to actually run.

...Noem, who was on KCCR Radio Thursday, says there may be opportunities available in the future. But Noem says her current plan is to keep serving in the House and run for re-election in 2016.

The Congresswoman says there is no timetable for a decision on the Governor’s race. Noem says she is not afraid to wait until the last minute to enter a race [Tony Mangan, "Noem Not Thinking about Governor's Race Yet," KCCR Radio, 2015.02.20].

Tony, reread your headline. Noem's words indicate she is thinking about the Governor's race.

An objective reading of the two articles suggests that Noem's statements are bigger political news than Johnson's. But the Republican spin machine, which remains miffed that it didn't get to run all the character assassination it had planned for Johnson in 2014, chooses to focus on the threat they fear from Johnson. Press-release peddler Pat Powers spotlights the Johnson non-article as a "hint" about Johnson's political future while ignoring the Noem news.

Brendan Johnson is going into private practice. Kristi Noem wants another term as a do-nothing Congresswoman and Twitter selfie queen while she teases the electorate and warns other candidates with a reminder that may jump into the 2018 Governor's race late. You tell me which is the bigger, more concrete political news.

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The Minnehaha County Election Review Committee is uncovering ballot problems that should have advocates for ballot integrity (and that should be all of us) screaming:

[Committee chairman Bruce] Danielson had compiled information from the April 8, 2014, city election that showed 30 voters were checked in twice, generally a minute or two apart, and three voters appeared to have voted twice by going to different polling places [Jill Callison, "Election Review Board May Propose Legislation Changes," that Sioux Falls paper, 2015.02.20].

Double voting? How on earth did that happen?

When the e-poll books were moved to alleviate the load at voting centers, it took time for those computers to upload all the current information so it could be synchronized with the system.

Without the correct procedures in place, two poll books could be side by side, but it would appear voters checked in at two separate locations, [election hardware/software hawker Brian] Mortimore said [Callison, 2015.02.20].

Poll books? Weren't those Republican former Secretary of State Jason Gant's brilliant innovation? Didn't he make sure he trained everyone properly and considered every contingency to ensure those gizmos didn't thwart the will of the electorate?

“We did a lot of training, and I’m not sure the SOS covered moving a poll book,” said Sioux Falls city clerk Lorie Hogstad, a committee member [Callison, 2015.02.20].

So just how extensive were the problems created by sloppy training and flawed equipment?

Committee member Sue Roust, former Minnehaha County auditor, worked at a polling place during that election. She said records indicated 3,200 people had actually voted when the true number was 4,200, making her wonder whether the machines are capable of keeping up [Callison, 2015.02.20].

1,000 mistakes out of 4,200 voters. The error rate for hand-counted ballots (which don't allow us to give juicy contracts to our friends in the election software business) runs between 0.5% and 2%. Roust is pointing to an election miscount worse than 20%.

The Republican spin machine, which freaks out over the possibility that Indians and poor people and other enemies of their corporate state might find it easy to vote once, let alone twice, is so far silent about the possibility that the election machine they themselves have purchased and promoted could so easily allow voter fraud and election error. This public silence reflects the non-response of the elected official who created them:

In his research on past elections, Danielson said, he had uncovered data that had been sloppily recorded. His attempts to inform the state were thwarted when no one from the Secretary of State’s office, then led by Jason Gant, would return his telephone calls [Callison, 2015.02.20].

The powers that be appear not to care that we can't trust the results of our elections:

That was the concern Brandon resident Joy Howe brought to the meeting, saying “the elephant in this whole discussion” is that ballots are being counted in secret without a public count.

Using machines to count ballots can allow someone to steal an election, she said.

“You stick them into a machine owned by a company with dubious ownership,” Howe said, her voice rising. “It is not a public count, and we are guaranteed a public count” [Callison, 2015.02.20].

The Minnehaha County election review committee continues to work on final recommendations for making our elections more reliable. All South Dakotans should be keenly interested in the results.

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