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Tidemann, Dryden Try Again to Whack Small-School Funding for Open Enrollment Success

Senator Larry Tidemann (R-7/Brookings) and Rep. Dan Dryden (R/34-Rapid City) are barking up the small schools' tree again. Last year Sen. Tidemann and Rep. Dryden floated a bill to eliminate the small-school adjustment from state funding for students from "big" schools who open-enroll in small schools. That bill failed... so they're trying again this year with Senate Bill 197. Basically, the bill says that each in the state should receive the amount of funding determined by the state aid formula for the district in which he or she lives, not the district he or she chooses to attend.

Superintendent James Cutshaw of Wolsey-Wessington offered strong testimony last year to the Senate Education committee to explain that open-enrollees often come with greater educational needs that require greater effort from the receiving school. The small-school adjustment makes up for that difference... although it is interesting to consider then whether we ought to keep that small-school adjustment for higher-need students who open enroll from a small district to a large one.

But really, should the Legislature be sweating where open-enrollees live? The small-school adjustment exists because we assume it costs more per student to run a school in a small district than a large district. That added cost does not depend on whether a student comes to Wolsey-Wessington because Mom and Dad moved to Wolsey or because Mom and Dad live in Huron but want their child to have a different academic setting. SB 197 leaves this assumption and increased funding intact for sparse school districts, which makes pretty clear that SB 197 is another punitive measure intended to tamp down the competition some small school districts pose to nearby large school districts for "their" students.

Get serious, legislators. If you don't like open enrollment, just ban open enrollment. But let's not play these petty games to punish any school districts for offering opportunities that parents find more beneficial than what's offered at their current school districts.


  1. Michael Black 2013.01.28

    Correct me if I am wrong, but doesn't this mean that there will be actually LESS money for education if this bill is approved?

  2. Donald Pay 2013.01.28

    So, it's fair to charge more for people going to small schools with educational challenges, but not to provide that benefit to large schools? Why not just do away with the small school subsidy altogether?

  3. Carl Fahrenwald 2013.01.28

    The SSF provides only a small part of the actual, additional costs to educate the open enrolled students at the smaller districts. This additional cost is largely absorbed by local tax effort, not state aid. For an extreme example of this look at students open enrolling from Madison to Oldham-Ramona. The state actually saves money even though costs are $4,000 per-pupil higher at OR. Oldham-Ramona already gets less state aid per student (this includes the SSF) so how can we justify subtracting any state aid from OR students (much less only certain ones)? SB 197 is simply nuts, IT IS NOT ACCEPTABLE TO FUND DIFFERENT PUBLIC SCHOOL STUDENTS ATTENDING THE SAME SCHOOL BASED ON WHERE THEY ARE FROM AND WHETHER OR NOT THEY HAVE CHOSEN TO OPEN ENROLL. Check out this link for per-student cost comparisons at Lake County area school districts, but remember that the state aid formula is a combination of local tax effort and state dollars.

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.01.28

    Donald, we may need to a hard look at the whole formula. Carl, what would you say if Pierre said that, in its duty to provide a fair and adequate education to all South Dakota students, its obligation is to provide the same amount of state aid for every child in the state, regardless of location, and that any additional cost must be handled by local effort, as you say it is currently in Rutland?

    And Carl, help me and Michael out: despite the surprising example of Rutland, would SB 197 be a net money saver for the state?

  5. Charlie Johnson Post author | 2013.01.28

    When OE first started, was it not the assumption that it would be the death blow for smaller schools? Now it's the larger schools that feel threaten?

    [CAH: editorial note: I moved this comment from today's illegal immigration thread. I think Charlie meant for it to be here! :-)]

  6. Michael Black 2013.01.28

    From the talk I had with Dr. F today, I gathered that the loss of the small school factor money for open enrolled students would not go back into the education formula.

    Here is something for the legislators to ponder: many of the small districts that are accepting open enroll students have opt outs. That means that their taxpayers are subsidizing the education of out of district students.

    Open enrollment can be a huge benefit to both districts. Sometimes kids need a change of venue to become successful in school. Everyone wins when it works.

    What this bill does is take away money from teacher salaries in the small districts - teachers that are already at the bottom of the pay scale.

    If these legislators want to get rid of open enrollment then they need to step up and say what they really mean. If our state is so short on money and they need to take money away from education, then we need to move straight to forced consolidation and remove all local control and give it to the state. If this is just a money thing, we can also start across the board cuts in all of state government.

  7. grudznick 2013.01.28

    Mr. Black is right. The legislatures need to cut cut cut.

  8. Michael Black 2013.01.28

    Sometimes we need to spend, spend, spend to save money later on.

  9. grudznick 2013.01.28

    No we should not spend spend spend. That would be bad. We should hold government steady at best. Or we should cut taxes and squeeze more performance out of our cities and schools and state governments. That's a lot of juice in that juice rag that can be twisted out and drank, we don't need to open new cans until the rag is dry.

  10. Michael Black 2013.01.28

    Our best money is spent on our elementary kids. The return on our investment is high there.

  11. Donald Pay 2013.01.28

    There's nothing wrong with open enrollment. The problem is with the funding mechanism. Originally, the idea was that the money would follow the child. Originally, of course, there was no small district super-payment. All kids were treated equally. Orginally, the money for a student transferring between large and small districts was the same. Dryden's bill seeks to re-establish the original concept based on the present funding situation. It makes sense to me, but it makes more sense to simply get rid of the small school adjustment.

  12. Carl Fahrenwald 2013.01.28

    Cory makes a couple of good points and offers a credible solution. Yes, overall the additional SSF part of the formula does add to the total cost of education in the state. Yes again- add enough funding in across the board state aid to lift all boats so to speak. The largest (most efficient) school districts would then be able run state of the art programs and offer more regionally competitive pay to teachers without local tax opt outs. The system is broken when our largest school districts need opt outs to fund basic educational services. The additional amount of per pupil funding in the formula would need to be at least $1,200- $1,500. Do this for all students attending any school and then forget about the SSF, sparsity and other such considerations. Beam me up to whatever planet this might be possible on.....

  13. Donald Pay 2013.01.28

    SD is not alone in having an inadequate state funding mechanism. Many states enacted formulae along the lines of what SD did back in the 1990s. These states' formulae may be slightly different in calculation, but the basic idea is a revenue cap of some sort with an opt out. In Wisconsin, an opt out process is called "going to referendum." I think Oregon might have been the first state to go this way, but Wisconsin, SD and other states followed suit. Wisconsin added a few extra controls on teacher salaries, but the revenue caps were set below the controls on teacher salaries so that districts ended up cutting programs to fund teachers. Anyway, most states' educators soon began to recognize the inadequacy of these formulae. I recall Dryden saying in the 1990s that SD's formula was going to eventually require huge cuts in RC that would hurt education. And by 2000 the RC district was cutting programs and hurting education.

  14. Donald Pay 2013.01.28

    Essentially what states were reacting to in the 1990s were two things: lawsuits against previously inadequate and unfair education funding mechanisms and increasing resistance of local property taxpayers to fund schools. Most states, including South Dakota, decided to fund property tax relief through increased state aid to education. Thus, they need the revenue caps or per student caps to drive the state money into property tax relief, rather than to education. The present formula was just a handy means to use more state tax dollars to fund property tax relief. It has no real educational component in it.

  15. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.01.29

    Note Carl's rationality and generosity: he's more willing to support getting rid of the SSF and boosting funding for his big-school neighbors than Tidemann and Dryden are willing to support the small schools they perceive as unfair competitors.

  16. larry kurtz 2013.02.13

    SB 197 is killed. RT @ArgusMontgomery

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