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Legislature Ignores Miller Pitch, Chooses Oil Boom, Higher Ed for Summer Study

A couple of weeks ago, as I reviewed the numerous items proposed to the South Dakota Legislature's Executive Board for summer interim study, I noted a proposal by Rep. Patty Miller (R-16/McCook Lake) to study language-learning software by Imagine Learning. Her proposal sounded suspiciously like a sales pitch:

Study of education and student accountability

The owner and creator of the "Imagine Learning" program created this for student achievement and accountability by developing an environment that makes it easy and exciting for kids to "buy-in" to their education experience. The success rate is extremely high for all cultures and socio-economic backgrounds. This would be a great program to adopt in South Dakota—public, private, and reservation.

[Representative Patty Miller (R-16/McCook Lake), 2012 Interim Study Survey, Item I, sent to members of the South Dakota Legislature, 2012.03.31]

A representative from Utah-based Imagine Learning assures me that, while they appreciate the good representative's recommendation, they were unaware of her promotion of their product. "Imagine Learning hasn't contacted Rep. Miller or any other South Dakota legislator regarding our product," said the spokesman. Miller's shilling came entirely on her own initiative.

The Executive Board agreed with my reasoning that the Legislature could better spend its time studying larger issues than the efficacy of one commercial product that local school districts are better qualified to evaluate on their own without state-level interference. Instead, the Executive Board chose these two topics for interim study:

  1. (from Senator Mark Johnston) "Study issues and opportunities in South Dakota's emerging oil and gas boom" or (from Senate Commerce and Energy) "Study the issue surrounding the drilling of oil in northwestern South Dakota, including the opportunities and consequences regarding the current oil boom in North Dakota."
  2. (from House Education, Reps. Thomas Brunner and Tad Perry) "...determine the public purpose of postsecondary institutions in the state... setting policy performance expectations and the means for holding systems and institutions accountable... examine [South Dakota's] approach to funding... review alternative methods...."

We can perhaps credit the Legislature on its interest in the oil and gas boom. Instead of focusing on problems we already have, our elected officials are thinking ahead to consider problems that might arise in the next few years. They are passing on some pressing issues, like county road repair (proposed by Rep. Mark Venner) and drainage laws (proposed by Sen. Larry Rhoden). But the Bakken oil boom has created enormous strains on North Dakota's rural communities, and its effects are already visible in South Dakota. The potential for impacts on multiple policy areas makes the oil and gas boom a reasonable choice for summer study. Let's hope the legislators have the foresight to look at not just how much money they think the state can make but how the state will have to spend that money to maintain roads, schools, public safety, and general quality of life if the Bakken tide sloshes south (those would be the "consequences" mentioned in Senate C&E's wording).

The study of postsecondary education feels like a bit of a dodge. With a referendum on Governor Daugaard's K-12 education law likely to make the November ballot, the Legislature's Executive Board could have chosen any combination of four proposals to study our K-12 public schools. Such study would have contributed valuably to the conversation about public education that we will have this fall to inform our votes. Such study also would have provided valuable groundwork for the legislative debate that will take place next when new legislators debate what to do instead of the Daugaard plan that voters will reject this November.

Evidently sitting Legislators want to steer clear of the HB 1234 discussion that their opponents will press... since they know, I suspect, that serious study of K-12 education will only produce more evidence that the Governor's plan will hurt, not help, our K-12 schools. By my count, 9 of the 15 Executive Board members voted for HB 1234 this winter. Luckily for those legislators, they have the important issue of our public universities and vocational-technical schools to divert their attention.


  1. bret clanton 2012.04.25

    PEOPLE!! Could someone explain to me what all this noise is about the bakken oil boom moving into South Dakota? I live in Harding County and I do not see it. Here is what I do see. I see increased drilling within the existing field utilizing new technology. They are going into all the old wells and shooting legs on them. There is very limited expansion of the current field.
    There has been a frenzy of mineral leasing going on fueled by what I guess is speculators. A lot of these minerals have never been leased before so I guess that is income the state has not seen before.
    By far the biggest impact is on state highway 85. The old adage look both ways before you cross the street most certainly holds true. And I will add run like hell because if you dally you are going to get hit by a pipe truck.
    I would like to say to our legislators and all the Black Hills wishful thinkers I do not care how many meetings you have about it it is not happening yet.

  2. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.04.25

    Bret! It sounds like the interim study committee needs to come visit your neighborhood and see for themselves what's happening... and what's not happening. I wonder: could the talk about impacts in the local real estate market be more speculators trying to drive the market with buzz?

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