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Lederman: Throwing Money at (Private!) Schools Creates Educational Utopia

Country-club Republican Senator Dan Lederman (R-16/Dakota Dunes) whines that the plan to let wealthy businesses erase their property tax bill and drain the public K-12 budget with tax breaks for donations to private schools was killed by "prejudices and aggressive lobbying on the part of a taxpayer funded special interest group." I assume he's referring to the Associated School Boards of South Dakota, who quite sensibly opposed HB 1173. Let's remember that the ASBSD is not a "special interest" group. It represents school boards from across the state, elected by the people, just like Senator Lederman. With its broad membership of hundreds of school board members, the ASBSD is less of a special interest that Senator Lederman.

Rep. Don Kopp (R-35/Rapid City) didn't say anything about aggressive special-interest lobbying when he pulled his HB 1173 Tuesday. He told the House Taxation Committee it was a good bill, although he planned to cut his good idea in half by amending the maximum per-student tax break from 80% of the state's per-student allocation to 40%. But he asked that the committee kill the bill, based on discussion he'd had with constituents.

Rapid City Journal online poll on tax breaks for private-school/home-school expenses, screen cap, 2013.02.15
Rapid City Journal online poll on tax breaks for private-school/home-school expenses, screen cap, 2013.02.15

Maybe Rep. Kopp was talking to the constituents who read his hometown paper. The Rapid City Journal is conducting an online poll asking, "Do you think parents of home-schooled children or those in private schools should receive a property tax rebate?" When I clicked No this morning, I bumped the vote count to 618 for and 1,662 against. That's 73% against what Rep. Kopp wanted to do with HB 1173. If that RCJ poll even remotely reflects public sentiment, Rep. Kopp was smart to run away from his tax-break plan.

Senator Lederman argues that HB 1173 is a good starting point for conversation about how private schools and home school parents are entitled to public taxpayer support. Senator Lederman continues to pound the out-state ideological drum of school choice, even though even he admits that private school choices are limited and out of financial reach for most South Dakotans. Add to that the inability of two-income families to home school their kids, and Sen. Lederman's "school choice" propaganda sounds impractical, right?

Ah, but leave it to Lederman wave the magic wand of free-market fundamentalism. Divert tax dollars to private schools, says Lederman, and you'll see an "explosion" of education options in South Dakota. Folks are just waiting to offer their kids all sorts of new educational opportunities; we just need, says Lederman, to give them money.

Read Lederman's article closely, and you'll realize he's supporting the same argument that he and the SDGOP assail when we Democrats make it: put more money into education, and teachers and students will be able to do more.

It takes a country-club mindset like Lederman's to think that increasing funding for public schools won't solve anything, while throwing money at private schools and home school will create an educational utopia in South Dakota.

Related: Even some homeschoolers don't want tax credits, since they worry such government favors would take away the freedom Lederman thinks Kopp's bill would have enhanced.


  1. larry kurtz 2013.02.15

    Where does South Dakota find these people?

  2. Elisa 2013.02.15

    If you give someone a property tax credit for a private school education, the result I see is less money collected in property taxes, which will result in less revenue paid to the county, so which levy will lose as a result of this proposal -- the school districts, because the credit cannot exceed the taxes levied by the school district on that particular property -- This proposal doesn't make fiscal sense when school districts are struggling each year to balance budgets and meet the needs of students. Private schools are private for a reason. If they want to offset the financial burden, create a scholarship fund for families in hardship situations.

  3. Nick Nemec 2013.02.15

    Correct me if I'm wrong but wouldn't this proposal be somewhat of a double whammy for the public schools? Some taxpayer gets 80% of the per student allocation written off their tax bill for each kid whose private school educational expenses they pay. Then because the local school can't count those kids since they don't go to public school the state sends less money back to the local school to help pay for education.

    This is nothing less than a rich guy money grab. The haves get more the have nots get less.

  4. Thad Wasson 2013.02.15

    It's time to spread the wealth around. If my neighbor gets an ag exemption than its my right to get an education exemption. We can start it small, say $500 a year per student.

  5. El Rayo X 2013.02.15

    I wonder if there are any home schoolers in the Pringle area that would like to speak in favor of this bill? Maybe Sen. Lenderman or Rep.. Kopp would like to knock on their compound gate and personally extend the invitation to come and testify?

  6. Rorschach 2013.02.15

    I'm still curious how much the taxpayers, both federal and state, have pitched in to subsidize Sen. Lederman's country club lifestyle, living on a sandbar by the river.

    How many millions of dollars did the National Guard spend building and maintaining levies, and maintaining order? What was Sen. Lederman's family's share of that cost?

    How much did the federal government kick in for disaster relief payments to the Lederman family for damage to their mansion built on sand, and for temporary living expenses in Sioux City, Iowa? How much does the federal government subsidize Sen. Lederman's flood insurance so that he doesn't have to pay a true market rate for premiums?

    This bail bondsman gets a lot more out of government than any 5 welfare mothers combined. Now he wants more? Pay your fair share, Sen. Lederman.

  7. Douglas Wiken 2013.02.15

    The supporters of this and similar legislation try to claim that because home schoolers take their kids out of public school, they should not have to pay some property taxes.; The same argument should then work for those who have no children or who are long retired from having children in the public schools.

    This really is a fundamental attack on public education. I attended public schools and taught in a private school. Those experiences years ago did not convince me that private schools (or by extension home schooling) offered much that was not equally or better available in the public system. But that was too many years ago perhaps to be totally relevant today.

  8. WayneB 2013.02.15

    "The supporters of this and similar legislation try to claim that because home schoolers take their kids out of public school, they should not have to pay some property taxes.; The same argument should then work for those who have no children or who are long retired from having children in the public schools."

    Douglas is right on this. We all understand the benefits of education upon the entire populace - businesses benefit from educated employees, etc. This is a burden worth sharing.

    A (slightly) better argument to be made in this debate would be to have the state-allocated portion follow the child, no matter where the child receives his/her education.

    Unfortunately, if we did have the funds follow the child, we'd be putting our schools in even more of a bind... however, if parents feel the need to pull their students from poorly performing schools, why should they be penalized doubly so for seeking a better education for their child? And why should schools get to receive funds for students they did not teach?

    Maybe it could be means tested. There's no reason we need to give another break to our most affluent, but imagine the benefits we could derive if small clusters of families paid teachers privately to educate their students.

    Cory, if 20 parents sent their students to you to teach them in all the liberal arts, science, and math, you'd gross $89,820 or about $78,000 after all your self employment taxes. Now THAT is a good salary in SD!

  9. Douglas Wiken 2013.02.15

    WayneB raises an interesting question. With 23 kids in each class, the state kicks in something like $90,000. Where does the money go? Is too much of it going to administrators who sleep most afternoons? Or too much to grossly inefficient heating and cooling systems? It seems like schools get a lot of money per student and still teachers are not getting overly rich even if they earn more than about 90% of the people paying property taxes.

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.02.16

    You got it, Nick. Double whammy. As Doug says, Kopp and friends just want to undermine public education.

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.02.16

    Thad, really spreading the wealth around would mean removing the ag exemption.

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.02.16

    R: I didn't benefit from those levies on Dan's golf course! I want my money back! Waaaahh!

  13. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.02.16

    Wayne: 20 kids? Let's bump it to 22 kids, the maximum number state law allows an individual to instruct. Under a money-follows-the-child scheme, that gets me $96,579. I'd take that money, as well as (and I mean this) the thrilling challenge of composing and delivering a complete high school curriculum all by myself.

    But how much of that $97K would I spend renting or buying my own schoolhouse and equipping it with the necessary educational materials? I can't just do it in my house, since there's not enough room, and my neighbors wouldn't go for all that extra parking and traffic (see also Huron's rejection of a Buddhist church in a residential neighborhood). We'll need one big room, probably two bathrooms, likely a kitchen (home ec, class projects, fridge for brown-bag lunches). I could make an argument for a second big classroom or workshop for art, wood shop, etc. where we could work on big messy projects and keep them out of the way of our usual lecture/study space. I'll try to go easy on books, but that will mean relying heavily on Web resources, which will require really good Internet service. And I'll need lots of storage space for what books we do have on hand, plus computers, lab equipment, etc. I'm not trying to build a fancy frilly school (we'll skip the gym and get our P.E. requirement in by running to the park and going for class bike rides), but I am trying to build a school that will offer competitive value without costing parents more than what they pay for public education via taxes.

    And as much as I like being a one-man show, I'm going to have to work twice as hard to run my own school, since I'm going to have to clean and maintain the building myself, take all the phone calls, handle all parent interactions, handle all state paperwork (and if we're tying state money to kids, there had better be some state paperwork for accountability). Or I'm going to have to hire someone, a fellow jack/jane of all trades who can handle all of those things and effectively fill in for me as a teacher when I'm away at a meeting or taking care of a sick daughter. Hiring that one skilled person (assuming full-time) at a moral and competitive wage will take maybe a third of my $97K.

    I'm not at all opposed to starting my own academy. The independence and intense interaction with a small group of students all day would be exhilirating. But if we're going to run such a school purely on a vouchered-out per-student-allocation from the state and not depend on other community donations, we're going to have to take a hard look at the real budget demands of running a tiny school competitively against a bigger school to convince me as an entrepreneur that opening such an academy would be a wise financial move.

  14. Michael Black 2013.02.16

    If you run your own school, paying someone a "moral" wage is not necessary. You just need to pay them enough so that they are content with the wages.
    It's interesting that there is a 22 student limit. I don't know of any hard rule at the state level limiting the number of students taught by one teaching in public schools.

  15. Steve Sibson 2013.02.16

    Cory, are you still homeschooling your own kids?

  16. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.02.16

    Circumstances do not permit: I work full-time; my wife works part-time and spends more time in seminary classes. Along with the common benefits, the public school system provides to us personally value that we could not secure financially with HB 1173's tax credit or with a full PSA voucher.

  17. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.02.16

    Michael, indeed: I've had a classroom with 28 students in it. Maybe someone should check that rule for some goose-gander-ness!

    As for moral wage vs. contentment wage... even if I can ignore my own conscience and political consistency, I still have to compete. Contentment will likely cost what that school secretary or janitor or substitute teacher can earn from competing employers... who likely aren't making the same demands for flexibility as I am.

  18. owen reitzel 2013.02.16

    I have no problem with somebody home-schooling their kids. I never would have done it but that's a person "choice."
    Problem I have is that I don't weat to pay for somebody home-schooling or sending their kids to private schools. It was their "choice" to do this.
    there is that work "choice" again.

  19. Jana 2013.02.16

    Our neighbors, with 3 kids, rent their home.

    Do renters pay property tax? Aren't most 'smart' rental property owners factoring in the property tax into the amount of rent they charge?

    Last I checked, unlike Minnesota, renters can't claim the portion of property tax they pay out of their rent.

    So does this make HB 1173 only a state sponsored benefit to people who own real estate? The landed gentry....If you want to look at it historically.

    So renters should pay for all education...all the more reason to keep wages low. Keep them broke enough to have them rent and then take their money to pay the property tax and then lo and behold...write it off to send your kid to a private school!

    All expense paid private education for the landed gentry!...Gotta give the douche bags GOP credit...they've out douche bagged themselves on this one!

    Senators Stan and Rep. this an accurate read? Tell me you have thought through all of the intended and unintended consequences of this bill. (So what will be the unintended consequences?)

    I will ask you to honestly answer who this helps and who this hurts.

    Because you know that someone will be hurt. Just wondering if you even give a damn or have thought this one through.

    We know that Lederman doesn't give a crap. He sees this as a way for his crony friends in the Dunes to send their kids to a private Catholic school in Sioux City, Iowa and be able to avoid SD taxes. What a guy.

    Tax avoidance...the new Right...(two meanings intended)

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