Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Non-veto Was No Surprise: Daugaard Does Not Trust the Voters

The 2015 Legislative season has come to a close, and it has been described by many as "ho-hum."  One of the more controversial things that was passed included carving out the minimum wage for those that are seventeen years and 364 day old and younger to earn $7.50 per hour.  Daugaard had an opportunity to block this incredulous attack on the voters will, but once again sided against the will of the voters.  

Daugaard provided some reasoning for why he choose to go along with the GOP in Pierre instead of the voters he really represents:
"I don't think it is an affront to the will of the voters," Daugaard said. "Again, I think that campaign focused on adult workers who support a household and not on teenagers." 
Next year, we can expect the governor to support legislation that will reduce the minimum wage for anyone that can not provide proof of having children, anyone that is over the age of 65 (not needed to support a household), and college kids that are living in the dorm or with parents.  My favorite sneaky phrase by the Governor and his support for eroding the minimum wage increase decided by the voters was
"I don't think it is an affront to the will of the voters," Daugaard said. "Again, I think that campaign focused on adult workers who support a household and not on teenagers."
Notice it is Daugaard that decides how the voter thinks.  This should come as no surprise.  Remember that this was the man that said that voters were too lazy to read when it came to supporting what he wants, like HB1234 in 2012.  
"The voters don't have time to dig into and understand the facts that bare upon an informed decision and so when voters don't have that time then most are included to say, 'Well, I don't have time to dig into this and so I'm going to vote no,'" Daugaard said.
Now the question left is do we need to spell out everything to the Governor and refer the minimum wage increase for all people?  The problem will be that no matter what the voters want, Daugaard simply doesn't have the time to actually listen to them and will probably do whatever he wants anyway.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

GOP Celebrates Mediocrity On Education, Etc.

Pierre is basically done again for the year, and once again, the GOP leadership in Pierre celebrates not getting much done.  I guess that should not come as a surprise.  Why do anything that could significantly improve life for citizens in South Dakota when you can show up, accomplish little, and know you will get re-elected?  At least that is the thinking of Senate Majority Leader, Tim Rave (R) from Baltic thinks:
"Never have we had a budget that does enough, and that's OK, because that's why we're elected to come back next year," said Rave, R-Baltic.
 I mean, why bother talking the difficult problems and look for ways to increase revenue to meets the needs of the state since you will always get to make promises and accomplish nothing again the next year.  The excuses will always be a lack of income to provide for any real improvements.  I mean what is a representative to do?  Just study the problem over and over?  That was the suggestion of Rapid City Republican Bruce Rampelberg.

The governor and legislative leaders are forming a “Blue Ribbon” task force to address the issue, and I am told everything is on the table. 
On the revenue side, potential changes are limited. Sales tax and local effort (real estate taxes) are already high and two possible solutions, removing sales tax exemptions from certain industries (newspapers, ag equipment, etc.) and an income tax would not be palatable. Finding other significant revenue sources will be difficult.
Lets have another study to see if there is a problem, say all things are on the table, except sales tax exemptions and income taxes.  Notice, that everything is on the table, except anything that would actually have a real impact on providing change for the education crisis. So, we will have a panel that will make bold suggestions, but the GOP is afraid of bold action.  That is not why they were put here.  They won't even allow for VOTERS to decide if we initiate a corporate income tax to help improve education funding.

The only time they try something unique is when ALEC pushes it.  It doesn't have to make common sense.  That was the insight offered on SB 189 that would divert funding for private schools and home schools:
Dan Liekvold, Superintendent of Lead-Deadwood Schools stood up and stated it was his understanding that Senate Bill 189 was not “born and raised in South Dakota.” 
“This came from — I’m not certain, but I think ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council, a non-profit organization of conservative state legislators and private sector individuals that, among other things, drafts model legislation). There’s the exact same bill in Arizona, the exact same bill in Louisiana. This wasn’t a South Dakota idea generated here, we’re sort of a proving ground, I think.” 
Dave Peters, a Superintendent from Spearfish summarized the problem with the thinking on the bill:
“For educators in this state in public education who feel the brunt of the low salaries, and the lack of support that they feel, this is just one more thing where the money could be going somewhere else that you’re already trying to fund, and it’s going to be a voucher for sectarian schools,” Superintendent of Spearfish Schools Dave Peters said at Saturday morning’s Spearfish cracker barrel. “Tough one for us to sell to our staff continually, to make them think that their state does support their efforts.”
So in the end, thanks, I guess, GOP for accomplishing very little.  It appears that it will be just enough to continue and kick all the problems down the road and get yourself re-elected.  Maybe the kids that struggle without a teacher will someday be able to replace you and will take a much more proactive stance instead of a non-active stance. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Did Rounds and Thune Break the Law?

The blogosphere and the news are abuzz over a letter that the GOP have sent to Iran because they feel that Iranians are too stupid to understand and know how United States can enact treaties.  In the letter which includes 47 signatures (including Rounds and Thune) has a lot of people angry and confused.  The GOP claimed that they could work to get things done, but are still stuck in "HELL NO" mentality.  In the middle of talks which involve several countries other than the US and Iran, talks that have no deal established yet, talks that will try and continue on March 15, the GOP feels the need to tell Iran that they simply don't know how to govern or how to work with anyone and that the US government is broken.  

The Iranian Foreign Minister calls out the GOP and explains that he is well aware of how the US government functions and then is forced to explain to Mike Rounds, John Thune, and the rest of the children, I mean GOP,  how international law works:
"I should bring one important point to the attention of the authors and that is, the world is not the United States, and the conduct of inter-state relations is governed by international law, and not by US domestic law. The authors may not fully understand that in international law, governments represent the entirety of their respective states, are responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs, are required to fulfill the obligations they undertake with other states and may not invoke their internal law as justification for failure to perform their international obligations."
 The GOP not only don't understand international law, but damage the US by making us look as untrustworthy,
 “In this letter, which is an undiplomatic work, we are told that the United States is untrustworthy,” said Mr Zarif. “This kind of communication is unprecedented.”
This is about as smart one of my students declaring to the other basketball team that they won't followed agreed upon rules and even if they do at first, they will probably back out of them in the middle of the game.  It makes no sense.

To top everything off, it appears that John Thune, Mike Rounds, and the other GOP senators broke the law by communicating with Iran.  The US News and World Report points to the Logan Act of 1799:
The act bans U.S. citizens from engaging “without authority of the United States” in “correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government ... with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government ... in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States.”
The article continues and points out that there is no threat of being prosecuted under this outdated and unconstitutional law, but the GOP has never meet a legal loophole they couldn't exploit.  Maybe they should be called out and prosecuted for these actions.  If they wanted to make their stance clear, they could have gone on talk radio or wrote and editorial, but they actually sent the letter to Iran.  

No matter what happens in the courts, the actions of the GOP have damaged the United States.  Jay Bookman with the Atlanta Journal and Constitution states:
But in their stubborn righteousness, in their self-satisfied belief that they and only they are the wise and proper spokesmen for this country, they have made the United States look weak in the eyes of the world. They have taken the true source of whatever influence we might carry — our unity — and they have debased it. They have done real harm to this country.... 
And at the national level, the problem is that once such understandings are violated, once such taboos are broken, they become much more difficult to reinstate. With this example now set, it becomes much easier for malcontents of either party to follow it in the future. 
And other nations, having watched this play out, will now begin to factor it into their own calculations. If they are told “no” by an American adminstration, they now have hope of being told “yes” by another branch of that government. If they are told “yes” by an administration, they now have cause to doubt whether that “yes” can really be counted upon.
For shame on hurting the United States, John Thune and Mike Rounds, for shame.  Your childish behavior is not becoming of a United State's Senator.  Too bad we can't impeach all 47 Senators that have proven they are not fit to be Senators.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Teacher shortage, blah, blah blah. Lets Get a Panel

Stop if you have heard this one before:  There is a significant teacher shortage in South Dakota happening and pay is a significant factor behind it.  

Sioux Falls held his teacher job fair and discovered that other states are more than willing to come into South Dakota and offer higher salaries for teachers.  KSFY relayed the feelings of upcoming teachers in a recent report, 

With an increasing need for teachers, South Dakota school districts also may need to impress these jobseekers with higher pay. 
"Going into teaching, you're always told, you're not going into the profession for money, it's true, but also at the same time, you're working so hard and you're putting in so many extra hours that no one even knows about, we do deserve the pay," Fairbanks said.
Imagine that!  It seems that more and more people going into the teaching field understand the importance of pay as it relates to the real value that our legislature is willing to assign to those in the education field.  Steve Binkley, a third year teacher at Brookings High School was quoted on a recent report by KDLT.

"What they pay us is a reflection on how they value us. And, if they want to send the young people the message that education is not valued, the entire state will feel the repercussions," explained Brookings High School teacher Steve Binkley. This is his third year teaching. 
Teachers say one of those repercussions is teachers moving out of South Dakota to teach in other states where there's better pay and benefits. While teaching is a passion, future teachers with signs reading "fair pay for teachers" and "degree is not debt," say money has become a priority. A priority that students, teachers and professors, hope will grab the attention of South Dakota law makers.
It seems obvious to nearly everyone, including a bi-partisan panel that meet LAST YEAR!  Studies have not just been done by our legislature.  Half of the students coming out of college this year in the education field will be looking out of state:
Of the 503 university students working toward teaching degrees, half of them will leave South Dakota after graduation, long-term tracking numbers show. 
Teachers can make between $8,000 to $15,000 more by moving to North Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska or Wyoming.
We elect people to deal with the tough issues and not stand around talking about things that impact no one and watch as the ship sinks.  Governor Daugaard, you might consider yourself a captain of the state's ship, but if you are headed towards iceberg, you don't stand around holding a panel about it, you figure a way around the iceberg to survive.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

When a Win Is a Loss

The Senate voted today on SB 189, a bill that would provide vouchers without using the word vouchers.  The vote ended up 23-12.  While this is not a surprise that the Senate would focus first on means to reduce access to education funding for public students, this plan has costs that will impact, not only schools, but other departments in Pierre without clarifying exactly how those funds will be met.

Senator Bernie Hunoff (D-Yankton) posted this today from Pierre on Facebook:
Here's a little good news from the Senate floor today. You may not agree, but I'm happy that we l) blocked further video lottery expansion until we do a study to determine the social impacts, 2) funded a need-based scholarship program that we started in 2010 but has been poorly funded (though the amount remains to be decided) and 3) established a grants program for low-income families who want to send their kids to private schools (it sitll needs House approval).
Unfortunately, the number 3 of his post is not a win for public education.  This "win" is clearly a loss for public education.  Mr. Hunhoff is now trying to defend his "win."  He responds to one post:
Bernie Hunhoff K-12 Paul --- I guess you could argue that every private student costs the school money, but you could also figure that the private school students save money because we need about 8% fewer teachers and classrooms. I just don't see it as one against the other. Can't we be for all the students, private and public? Why the competition? And if it's ok for higher ed, then why not for K-12? 
There are a lot of issues with this line of reasoning.  First, not every school will receive a benefit in students leaving for private schools; however, they will have to still pay for the teacher that is teaching the rest of the students that could not leave or chose not to leave.  Let say that 10 students students in the Lennox district choose to drive 20 miles everyday to go to Sioux Falls for private education.  Now the Lennox school district will receive around $47,000 less in funds since they are no longer enrolled.  Then figure in that the four million causes a reduction in funding of around $30 per student.  The district has over 1000 students and the $30 reduction would be another $30,000 in the district.  That puts the total costs to just Lennox schools at over $77,000.  

The fight now shifts over to the House.  We need to explain to the people in Pierre that may still support public education how this will hurt all the public students.  We need to show them the error in thinking that this is some how actually good for the public students.  

Sunday, February 22, 2015

South Dakota Voucher Sneak Attack

I always figured that South Dakota GOP has a strong dislike for public education.  In my opinion, that is why Daugaard and the rest in Pierre continue to avoid finding ways to increase salaries for teachers and ignore the teacher shortage.  If schools don't have teachers, then they will be forced to consolidate (another popular idea by the GOP).  They are also looking for ways to weaken public schools even more in favor of home schooling and private education.

Daugaard has been clear that he sees private education as the best choice for our students.  He then uses this as a reason to reject increasing teacher's compensation.  

First was House Bill 1070.  This bill would have made a law requiring that special education services were made available to students under alternative education (home schooled).  This was to basically say to the home school supporters, "Look at us!  We agree that public schools are bad.  We are here to protect you."  The problem is that it would not have actually accomplished anything.  As Ken Santema pointed out, 
This is a bill that was probably good to table. It didn’t seem necessary.
That is something that seems to be a fairly common theme of the legislature, lets throw out a lot of bills that are unnecessary instead of focusing on the issues that need addressing.  However, this bill was tabled with a 14-0 vote.

The newest fight for private schools and homeschool students is coming from Senator Heineman, Rpublican from District 13.  It also has co-sponsers of Ernie Otten and Isaac Latterell from District 6.  Bob Mercer explains the bill at his blog and how Heineman got it onto the floor:
The state Senate agreed Friday afternoon to allow a debate next week on legislation from Sen. Phyllis Heineman, R-Sioux Falls, that would create a state-funded scholarship and grant program for non-public K-12 schools in South Dakota. The essence of SB 189 is insurance companies could donate money to a scholarship and grant organization and the donations would be counted as a 90 percent credit against premium taxes the insurance companies otherwise must pay to the state treasury. In other words, 90 cents of a premium-tax dollar could go to the scholarship and grant organization. The organization would have to report to the state Department of Legislative Audit.  
There are several issues with this concept.  

1. The tax credit means less income for the state to help balance the books.  This would mean that there would be less education dollars for public schools.  This further weakens the public schools and increases the difficulties in retaining quality teachers.  

2. The weakening of the public schools will actually hurt the students involved in many of the private schools.  One of the speakers in supporting the bill talked about her experience at Dell Rapids St. Mary's schools.  I remember that several students from St. Mary's took classes from teachers in the public schools because they could not offer access to labs and other science based classes.  If a student needs special educational assistance, they will have to come to the public schools for assistance and the public school will provide it.  

3. The tax dollars being lost will impact schools all over the state and not just cities/towns that offer private education.  In Lennox, there is no private school in the town.  They would have to drive to Sioux Falls for Sioux Falls Christian or O'Gorman.  A family functioning under free and reduced lunch level will have great difficulties in affording gas and transportation since most private schools do not provide bussing from outside of the town.  This means that public students in places like Lennox, Chancellor, and Worthing would be impacted but not get the access.  

4. If insurance companies feel so strong about supporting private education, then why bribe them with tax credits.  The businesses could step up and donate to the fund without taking away state funds.  This then would allow those that want to use the program to get funding assistance to a private school to get the income.

In the testimony, the Department of Education came out to speak against the bills sharing the impact it will have on the costs for administrating the program and the impact it would have on education funding.  She also pointed out that these programs did not improve any benefits academically.  The Division of Insurance also spoke out against the bill due to poor panning of the bill and extra costs doing the bill.  It was also pointed out that this bill would decrease the funding formula by $30 per student.  Mercer even points out that the Daugaard administration is opposed to the bill.

SB 189 is a voucher program in sheep's clothing.  Please urge your Senator to vote against this after it is debated on the floor.  I leave you with the final paragraph from Mr. Mercer's blog post:
This proposal to allow tax credits to encourage insurance companies to pay for non-public education, and making less tax money available for public education as a result, would mark a major change in South Dakota for education policy and social policy.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Why the USD Interim-Dean of Education Should Consider Letting Someone Else Try

I am not a product of USD.  I went to undergraduate school in Minnesota and spent a few years in graduate studies at South Dakota State University (GO JACKS!)  I picked my undergraduate school during my senior year in high school because, in part, they had a strong education department.  USD was never on my radar; however, my sister did go to school there and recently pointed out a very sad and disappointing article published in the USD paper, The Volante.  

In the paper the writer does a piece looking at why some students continue in a field in South Dakota that people like the Governor look at with such disdain; teaching.  For the paper, she interviewed the Interim-Dean of Education for insight.  

SIDEBAR- In my experience, too many of the people in the teaching of teachers business forget about the practical side of teaching and get too wrapped up in the theory of teaching.  The problem is this creates unprepared students to handle the different issues surrounding teaching.  This in part might be why some studies show that one half of all teachers will quit within the first five years.  

During the interview, Hee-sook Choi was quoted using some fairly standard catch phrases heard in Pierre.  Things like:
“Although salaries are low in South Dakota, not all of our students come to the School of Education thinking that, ‘I’m going to get into education to make money,’” Choi said. “Nobody does that — it’s just their passion.”
(I would like to think that all people are passionate about their jobs and not just in in for the money.  I would also like to think that teachers in Iowa and North Dakota are just as passionate as teachers in South Dakota, but no matter what, who does that justify paying low earnings?  Just because you are passionate, you don't worry about paying your bills?)

and
Choi said there is a percentage of students who leave South Dakota to return to their home area, so she does not think pay is the top factor students consider. 
“That’s where they came from, that’s where their families are,” Choi said. “There’s a comfort level there, so they tend to go back to where they’re from, or they’re wanting to have that proximity to their families.”
(Unfortunately, this ignores the issue of lack of students choosing not to go into education in the first place.   This ignores the data that a Interim-Dean of Education should well be know: the pipeline for teaching is drying up.)

and

Choi said the benefits of teaching and having a positive impact on children far outweigh what the income numbers might be. Plus, teachers are only on the clock for three-fourths of the year. 
“Yes, teacher salaries are not high, but when you think about the fact (the) job is not all year round — it’s a nine month job — you have your summer vacation and you work from 8 a.m. to, what, 3:30 p.m. and then, (the) day is over, so you still have all evening to do something else,” Choi said.
(I guess she agrees with Scott Walker and his attitudes about college professors, but to even phrase this in the first place is a slap in the face to all teachers.  For many the "something else" is grading papers, coaching sports, writing tests, or a part time job to help you pay the bills.  It becomes apparent that Ms Choi received grief about the statement because a "clarification" now appears at the bottom of the article.)

Ms Choi should not have asked for a clarification and complain that she had been taken out of context.  She should write a letter of apology to all of the teachers that have gone through USD for not fully appreciating the hard work that they do.  Because if she did, she would not have even thought to utter those statements.