Last updated on 2014.01.20
The South Dakota House of Representatives took up its first two resolutions of the 2014 Legislative session on Thursday. House Concurrent Resolutions 1001 and 1002 both affirm the lack of resources that South Dakota school districts face. HCR 1001 calls on schools to buck up and work together. HCR 1002 says we're short on teachers and need to explore policies like tuition reimbursement to recruit and retain good teachers.
HCR 1001 whistled through the House Thursday after just two speeches in favor on a unanimous vote. But when the House turned to HCR 1002, as I suspected, some legislators found even the toothless acknowledgment of a problem too much to stomach.
Rep. Jacqueline Sly (R-33/Rapid City) said the interim education committee on which she served was not charged by the Legislature's Executive Board* with finding answers to the teacher shortage and thus brought this resolution to raise public awareness of the challenges school districts say they face in recruiting teachers. Fewer college students are entering education, said Rep. Sly, and our neighboring states all pay teachers significantly more.
Rep. Brock Greenfield (R-2/Clark) then rose to manufacture some umbrage. "Words mean something," he said to justify his exertions against HCR 1002's statement of fact. He claimed to agree with most of HCR 1002 but took exception to the opening Whereas clause:
...school districts across the state, and especially in the rural areas, are struggling to keep good teachers and to fill teacher vacancies... [2014 HCR 1002].
Rep. Greenfield whined that HCR 1002 unfairly singles out rural schools. Yet just five minutes prior to this comment, Rep. Greenfield joined the unanimous House in approving HCR 1001, which contained its own, arguably harsher singling out of rural schools:
...school districts across the state, and especially those in remote, rural areas, sometimes lack the staff and resources needed to provide students with the course offerings, co-curricular activities, or other educational services or opportunities that are necessary or would serve to enhance the students' learning and educational experiences... [2014 HCR 1001].
HCR 1002 just says rural schools especially struggle. HCR 1001 says rural schools actually fail to do something, actually lack needed staff and resources. If Rep. Greenfield's words meant something, he'd have been hotter about HCR 1001 than about HCR 1002.
Rep. Greenfield then dissolved into vague incoherence, saying HCR 1002 held "other issues and implied acknowledgments" that he couldn't support, then closing by saying the Legislature should make a stronger statement than HCR 1002.
Rep. Kathy Tyler (D-4/Big Stone City) attempted to correct Rep. Grenfield's misreading of HCR 1002. She pointed out that the resolition did not say there are no qualified teachers in rural areas. She said HCR 1002 reflected the concerns the interim education committee heard repeatedly from school officials, who said they are getting fewer and fewer applications to fill the coming vacancies of good teachers headed for retirement. She cited one career fair where a school official asked 300 seniors what career field they planned to enter and found only three choosing education.
Rep. Jim Bolin (R-16/Canton) tacitly poo-pooed those stories, calling the teacher shortage "alleged" and "supposed". He said certain academic disciplines, like special education and music, have shortages, but that when he was a history teacher, there was a surfeit of social studies applicants.
Rep. Bolin then revisited 2012's House Bill 1234, the really awful package of school-wrecking reforms that Governor Daugaard tried to foist on our K-12 system. Rep. Bolin pointed out that the voters referred and defeated that measure by a 2-to-1 margin, a stronger rejection than they dished out to a 25% tax increase (Rep. Bolin evidently savors refighting the 2012 election). He was negligent in connecting the dots, but Rep. Bolin appeared to be implying that 2012 HB 1234 was an effort to address any alleged teacher shortages or other problems in education, and that by "thunderously" overturning that measure, the people of South Dakota were saying there is no teacher shortage.
Without letting Rep. Bolin yank me too far into the time vortex with him, I'll simply suggest the logical possibility that in rejecting 1234, South Dakota voters were trying to prevent bad legislation from making the teacher shortage even worse by driving good teachers to other states where they wouldn't have to put up with Daugaard's mad reforms.
Public-education enemies Reps. Don and Jenna Haggar (R-10/Sioux Falls) then piled a for more slices of baloney onto the debate. Rep. Don Haggar said HCR 1002 contains the flawed assumption that teachers leave South Dakota because of low salaries. He said Education Secretary Melody Schopp says pay doesn't affect the teacher shortage.
No, Don, she says it does:
“The teacher shortage is one issue, and I’m sure pay we could attribute as one factor in that,” she said [Jennifer Taylor Gesick, "South Dakota Once Again Ranks Last in Teacher Pay," Rapid City Journal, 2014.01.19]
And the people putting their money where their mouths are on good teachers say it does:
Larry Reznicek, the human relations director for the Campbell County [Wyoming] school district, said he sees a number of applicants from South Dakota who are anxious to work in a community where the pay for first-year teachers with a bachelor's degree is $46,000 a year.
“We’ve been very fortunate,” Reznicek said in a phone interview last week. “It’s been 10 years now since we raised our wages. It’s a good thing. We absolutely have good pools of candidates.”
He pointed out that great pay attracts great teachers, which pays off for students.
“I do know that it’s unfortunate when you’re not paying teachers,” Reznicek said. “The single most important thing to improve student achievement is to have good teachers in front of those students” [Taylor Gesick, 2014.01.19].
Undaunted by fact or his own surely conservative faith in the free market, Rep. Don Haggar asserted that money doesn't translate into performance (memo to Don: your daughter Jenna voted for merit pay twice on 2012 HB 1234) then tipped his anti-public-education hand by saying "we're at a crossroads" that demands we look at "alternative" means of delivering instruction (translation: cannibalize our public schools with vouchers, favor rich and fundagelical homeschoolers like us, and leave the masses uneducated so it's easier for theocrats take over).
Rep. Jenna Haggar then chirped briefly that the House should resolve to thank teacher and reward South Dakota teachers instead of engaging in talk as "politically controversial" as HCR 1002.
Cross-town voice of reason Rep. Anne Hajek (R-14/Sioux Falls) pointed out that the last clause of HCR 1002 offers exactly those thanks (if not any practical reward) to teachers:
...this Legislature joins school officials in acknowledging that teachers are a highly valued resource in this state, and in exploring tuition reimbursement programs and other programs or policies that could help attract more good people into the teaching profession in South Dakota, and to keep the good teachers that are already here [2014 HCR 1002].
Rep. Scott Munsterman (R-7/Brookings) rose to ask Rep. Sly if HCR 1002 accurately reflects what the testimony and findings of the interim education committee. Rep. Sly said yes. Rep. Munsterman then urged his fellow legislators to face "brutal facts" and support this resolution.
48 of Munsterman's colleagues joined him in voting Aye on HCR 1002. 17 Republicans and 1 Democrat voted Nay. Most of the naysayers were members of the arch-conservative wing of the House (Kaiser, Kopp, May...), although interestingly, prominent RINO hunters Rep. Stace Nelson and Rep. Lance Russell were on the Aye side.
HCR 1002 now follows HCR 1001 to the Senate to sniff out more legislators who lack the guts to admit the brutal facts of the burdens their short-sighted stinginess has laid on South Dakota's public education system.
*Correction 2014.01.20 08:01 CST: In the original draft, I erroneously attributed the assignment of the interim committee's scope to the Governor. I regret the error.