Thursday, April 16, 2015

Children Are More Than Economic Cogs

The battle over start date for Sioux Falls will continue despite the recent vote.  This time it appears students are trying to get involved: (Keloland)
Some Sioux Falls students say they should have a say in the school calendar. A social media campaign is speaking out against the vote, which pushed the school start date to after Labor Day for the next three years. The group, called Let Students Decide, launched on Facebook on Tuesday. There is also a hashtag: #LetStudentsDecide. By Thursday afternoon, nearly 1,000 people Liked the Facebook page.
An interesting idea to try and hear from the voices of students.  This is not a post on if schools should or should not start after Labor Day.  There are benefits and negatives on both sides of the issue.  While some younger students may have a benefit from starting after Labor Day without much impact and there will be little impact by staying in school until June, high school students will actually pay a bigger price with impacts to AP testing, sports, and longer school burn-out as they wait to get out until June.  The ants in the pants will be at an extreme level for high school students.  

This is more about groups trying to decide issues impacting our youth based on what is good for their bottom line.  We are seeing more and more moves to make sure that decisions are not based on what is good for the child's growth and development, but instead it is based on what is good for the economy.

In the recent debate over the start date, the "Vote No" group was strongly supported by tourism groups.
Pankratz is a lobbyist for the Visitor Industry Alliance, a tourism advocacy group that spearheaded a failed ballot measure in 2006 that would have forced all schools in South Dakota to wait until September to start classes. 
The same group has supported later-start advocates in Sioux Falls. 
Are we to think that the Visitor Industry Alliance is really worried about what is best for the education of our children?  Come on, they are worried about if they can squeeze a few more dollars out for their businesses.  Businesses were some of the biggest supporters of the group that  changed the calendar:

The single biggest donation to either side, $2,600, came from the South Dakota Visitor Industry Alliance, which is affiliated with the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The second biggest donation, $2,500, came from a Sioux Falls water park...

Of all reporting, Voice in Local Control, raised the most, bringing in $8,739, and spending $3,889. Most of the money was spent on yard signs and other advertising efforts, McDonnel said.
The organization also received donations from Burger King, Culligan Sioux Falls, Lockwood Law office, plus more than $2,000 in individual donations and nonitemized contributions.

When you combine actions of businesses trying to dictate education policy for its own profit along with action being done to lower the minimum wage law because there is benefit in using children for less money and not for the convoluted "it will help them in the long run" excuses given, you can see an all out sacrifice of our children for the dollar.  

If your reasoning for supporting the Labor Day start was based solely on how it would improve the life of a child, then I am fine with that.  If your reasoning was to support it because it would allow more children to hang out and spend money at Wild Water West, then SHAME ON YOU!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Taxes and GOP Lies on Taxes

They say that the only thing certain in this world is death and taxes.  As Thune and the SDGOP continue to talk about the estate tax, I think that we can add lies as they try to cross off taxes for themselves.  

Thune has been making rounds trying to claim that he is for the little guy when it come to protecting them from taxes; however, he fails to point out that the only people protected will be the BIG guys.  In the Rapid City Journal and several other places, Thune has been making a claim that small farmers are at risk of losing the family farm that has been in families for generations.  OHH, THAT MEAN GOVERNMENT!

He writes:
Here in South Dakota, we are land rich and cash poor, leaving roughly one-third of South Dakota farms vulnerable to the death tax, based on cropland values provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Later on he uses the family farm line again-
Ninety-eight percent of farms in South Dakota are family owned and operated, and according to the South Dakota Department of Agriculture, over 2,500 South Dakota farms have been in the same family for more than 100 years. In some cases, families have to sell land just to pay the death tax, which punishes farmers and entrepreneurs for a lifetime of hard work. 
Boy, that is scary.  Fortunately for more than 99.5% of us, this is no where near a threat.  The exemption from the tax is set at $5.3 million for an individual.  If married, that number is doubled to $10.6 million.  That sounds like a lot of South Dakotans here in South Dakota.  Wait, a minute... okay, I don't know anyone that has that kind of scratch, but I am a teacher.  So I asked Thune exactly how many farms are impacted by this terrible burden every year?  I will let you know when I hear something back.  In the mean time,

Fact shared some information in regards to Thune's statements:  Here are the highlights:
As a result, roughly 3,700 estates, about 0.12 percent of the total, had to pay any estate taxes last year. The estate tax is a tax on the transfer of an estate through a will or other means after a person dies.
and this
Thune is also citing an outdated statistic. The report referred to 2000, when the estate tax exemption was $675,000. It’s now $5.4 million. But even with the lower exemption, the CBO found that there were just 138 farms in the whole U.S. that might not have enough liquid assets to cover the amount they owed in estate taxes. The report also ran calculations with a few hypothetical figures, including if the exemption were $3.5 million. (In inflation-adjusted dollars, that comes to about $4.8 million in 2015, so it’s much closer to the actual estate tax exemption today.) Assuming that higher $3.5 million exemption, the report estimated there were 13 estates of farmers that would have insufficient liquid assets to pay the estate tax liability. The value of farmland has outpaced inflation since 2000, so presumably that number could be higher now. But we’re still talking about a very small number of farms. 
and this
According to a Congressional Research Service report in 2013, less than 1 percent of farm operator estates is projected to pay any estate tax. 
And that’s because there are exemptions for farmers and small businesses written into the estate tax code that allow most farmers — with a bit of estate planning — to avoid the estate tax altogether. For example, if the heirs agree to farm the land for another 10 years, they can get up to a $1 million exemption by valuing land at its farm use value rather than development value. An additional $500,000 exemption is possible if one agrees to a perpetual conservation easement restricting the use of the land. It is also possible to reduce the value of an estate by giving portions of the estate to heirs as a gift over a number of years. For a full description of exemptions available to farmers, see this Congressional Research Service report, starting on page 2. 
So it appears that Thune is not being truthful because the facts are not as scary as he claims.  Cutting it would add over $320 billion to our deficit in the next 10 years and only benefit .2% of the population.  Thune claims he wants a balanced budget with increased spending on military and decreased revenue from basically everywhere but lower and middle class.  This can't happen of course, so, he must rely on scaring people with less than half-truths to make sure they don't think about the reality.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A Late Note on Indiana and Discrimination in Area Schools

I know that a lot of people have been talking about Indiana's actions to try and make it okay to discriminate against people for "religious" reasons.  This is something that our own state has and will continue to deal with.  You may remember SB 67 that was thrown around in our legislative body last year or SB 128 that actually received some hearings before it was tabled to death.  This type of thinking in South Dakota is nothing new to us.  As Cory Heidelberger pointed out in 2014,
But South Dakota's law and these proposals from our legislators make our state look bad. SB 128 has drawn negative out-state attention.
The idea that I do not have to sell you cake because I disagree with your lifestyle choice and then use religion as the justification is wrong.  My biggest issue with these attitudes is  the selectivity of what biblical mandates one wishes to follow shows the hypocrisy of those making the argument.  Church's that say they cannot allow a gay couple to marry are quiet about two divorced individuals marrying even though that is a bit clearer in the New Testament:  Matthew 5: 31-32, Mark 10: 2-12, Luke 16:18, Romans 7:2-3, and 1 Corinthians 7: 11-13 as just a few examples.

If a church chooses not to wed someone because it violates its religious beliefs, then I am okay with that church saying that it can not perform a religious service evoking the name of God in the process when it goes specifically against that institution.  There is no such flower institution or cake institution or pizza institution that has certain religious belief structures.  Nor should that church be able to dictate the actions of a different institution.

I think that this is true when it comes to persons working for an institution, even a religious institution, that is performing tasks that one's lifestyle would not contradict the institutions fundamental belief structure.  Recently, I have been made aware of two different Catholic schools that have either refused to hire or are firing a person simply because that person is living in a same-sex relationship.  

The first case involves a young speech teacher and coach at Skutt Catholic school in Omaha, Nebraska.  In this situation, the teacher did not have his contract renewed simply because of his sexual orientation and the fact that he and his partner got engaged:
English teacher and Speech coach, Matt Eledge, told the WOWT 6 News Team that he will likely lose his job because of his sexual orientation. The women who started the petition are his assistant speech coaches and former students, Kacey Hughes and Megan Cable. The two now attend UNL.
In another situation, just next door in Iowa, a teacher that was verbally told that he would be getting a position was told that wouldn't happen because a social media search indicated that he was in a committed relationship with a man.  The reasoning given:
Bishop Richard Pates is the leader of the Des Moines Diocese. He said that McCubbin wasn't denied the job because he's gay, but due to the openness of his sexual orientation. 
“We accept everybody, we love everybody. Everybody is always welcome within the context of the Catholic Church,” Pates said. 
So in this person's mind, it is a sin to be who you are and let anyone know about that.  In both situations, it would be up to the schools to prove that they had no one working there that was remarried from a divorce, no one that is in a relationship and not married, or a plethora of other sins.  These men were not teaching biblical studies.  They did not advocate a homosexual lifestyle to their students.  They simply wanted to challenge young minds in either speech/English or social studies.  

The Indiana law was wrong.  What the Catholic schools in the area are doing is also wrong.  I would urge my fellow speech teachers and coaches to think long and hard before attending a tournament that is held at one of these schools.  Invite them and treat their students with grace, because the students had nothing to do with the actions of the school, but do not endorse the actions with your entry fees.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

You Know Teacher Pay Is a Problem in South Dakota When...

Happy Easter everyone.  

I always got a chuckle out of Jeff Foxworthy when he did his, "you might be a redneck..." jokes.  It is the open ended quality of the joke that I enjoy.  I think we could apply the same philosophy on a more serious issue if we change up the phrase.  You know teacher pay is a problem in South Dakota when....

I think if we create a long enough list, then maybe Pierre will understand when they have their little panel meetings, that this is an issue that can't be ignored anymore.  I will start us off from a recent editorial in the Aberdeen newspaper.

You know teacher pay in South Dakota is a problem when NORTH DAKOTA is telling you to FIX IT!  Ellendale, North Dakota, superintendent, Jeff Faustnacht, points out how our in ability to pay teachers is hurting South Dakota.
Low pay, NCLB and highly competitive neighbors are all pulling your best and brightest away from you. When will Pierre take notice? 
It was not until this year that I ran into two perfect examples of how detrimental this pay differential is for South Dakota. Ellendale is only 35 minutes north of Aberdeen, so when we post for applicants we look in both North and South Dakota. My first example was a first-year English teacher with no education beyond her bachelors. She was an exceptional candidate and we offered her a position. 
To my dismay, that offer was in excess of $5,000 more than her present salary. She did not end up taking our offer, but engagements do funny things. Next, we ran into a husband and wife team from down by Yankton. They were NSU grads that had been teaching 20-plus years each. They had masters’ degrees, did many duties and were highly regarded by their present school. With that experience and education, they were presently being paid less than Ellendale’s base salary. That is shameful! We ended up getting both to agree to move north and they probably made over $25,000 in additional salary. 
Wouldn’t you move for that? South Dakota, you lost. Your schools are losing their very best every day, when will you notice? 
I encourage you to submit some of your own "You know teacher pay is a problem when..." examples.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Experience Matters in Classrooms...There's a Shocker

In a study that proves something that most people with a generally functioning brain could have already told, researchers report that generally the more experience a teacher has, the stronger they are in the classroom.  

Moreover, teachers' deepening experience appears to translate into other student benefits as well. One of the new studies, for example, links years on the job to declining rates of student absenteeism. 
Although the studies raise numerous questions for follow-up, the researchers say it may be time to retire the received—and somewhat counterintuitive—wisdom that teachers can't or don't improve much after their first few years on the job.
 Unfortunately, South Dakota schools are experiencing a serious issue.  More and more teachers are retiring and not enough young teachers are coming up the pipeline.  The Huron Plainsman reported on the coming drought of teaching candidates:
Some 1,000 teachers are nearing retirement, but only about 600 students are enrolled in South Dakota college and university teacher training programs.
I am not a math teacher, but it seems that those numbers don't add up anything good for our students.  Of course when you have a legislature that puts students last, that lack the courage to find ways to properly fund education, and that think that they need to pit teacher against teacher with plans of merit pay that ignore teachers and administrators.  The Argus Leader reflects on this problem in schools scrambling to fill positions:
South Dakota teachers have the lowest average salary in the country, and school districts across the state have reported candidate pools in the single digits and unfilled teaching jobs. 
As Daugaard puts his panel on education together, I hope that he will listen to them more than the last panel.  I hope he also tasks the panel to figure out what it will take to keep younger teachers and mid-level experienced teachers to stay in education.  Because, we now have proof that experience does in fact matter.

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.