Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Education and the Schoenbeck Report

Lee Schoenbeck must have felt slighted not to have made it to the Blue Ribbon Panel, but instead of offering up fake concern over funding for a call to a special session, he actually stays on topic (for the most part) and talks about the funding inadequacies.  I believe that his paper begins to show us where there is hope for a change and where there is concern for sticking to failed ideas.  I do want to say off the top, however, that I appreciate what seems to be the first real attempt at addressing the funding shortfall in education published by a South Dakota legislative member.  With that, lets begin to look at some of the ideas presented in the offering.

Step one: Read the report.  
Do not just rely on my picking out of sections here and there to comment on or anyone else's until you have read the whole thing.  It is about eight pages long and it is a little clunky in the writing style (Schoenbeck is a lawyer and not an English teacher, so that can be forgiven.)  He starts off with a bit of history about SD education and then moves into the issues of lack of funding with a lens of the free market approach.  He lays out several warrants mixed with pieces of data that do not always connect/relate, but he does provide some weak citation (Mr. Schoenbeck, I would encourage you to include a citations page to allow others to look at the sources used since you can't hyperlink a word documented that is printed.  That is just the teacher/librarian in me coming out.)  

After his 28 points, he then moves onto providing a suggestion of revenue: a one penny sales tax from May 1 through October 31.  He breaks down how much this could bring in to the schools (both K-12 and Post-secondary schools) and shares some clarification to his seven points on how to spend the money.  Some of these are a little confusing, but that is because of the note style he presents them.

He then closes on four general areas related to the funding and approach of handling the schools.  These four points focus on school administrators, making contracts longer for teachers, student performance and  punishments for lagging schools, and a form of performance pay boosters.

Step Two: Separate the issues:

There are a couple of main things I noticed in the report.  Those issues include-
1. Low teacher pay is one of the main contributors to the teacher shortage which is very real.  The state has been kicking this can down the road for long enough.  This lack of pay degrades the profession of teaching as it tells the general public that it is not worth funding.

2. Looking at how to pay for it:  As mentioned earlier, he offers a one penny sales tax increase during the summer months.  He rightly states that opting out property tax freeze is not the path to go.  This directly contradicts Daugaard's way of thinking:
The opt-out is the only alternative that local school districts can use to raise additional money to cover shortages. Sixty-six other school districts in South Dakota have resorted to opt-outs to get around the state’s restrictions. 
Daugaard has said that the opt-out is a tool local communities have that gives them control over their programs and teachers’ salaries, Hansen said. (Rapid City Journal May 31, 2015)
3. He sneaks in vouchers and using state tax dollars for private schools.  This is based on SB 189 and would funnel 5 million.  This is a diversion from helping increase and attract new teachers and keeping teachers here.  This is something that we talked about back in February.  LET IT GO! 

4. All teachers will be highly qualified by 2018 is one of the caveats he places on schools to get his additional funding.  A worthy goal, but highly unlikely in this short of a time frame.  Why?  It will take a while to build up the lower end of the teacher pipeline.  Even then, some schools at the outskirts of the state will need more time to pull in teachers.  

5. Are there other means to pay for it?  I would like to see the statistics on what a small corporate tax could bring to the state.  We don't need to do a 40% tax or anything like that.  The issue with the sales tax is that it is regressive.  If you want to target the visitors of the state, then make the tax built around that idea (hotel tax, sales tax on everything but clothes and food, a restaurant sales tax).  

6. His school administration sections seems a bit uninformed.  I am very concerned with the emergency response administrative team.  Really concerned that this could be used to over-rule local control. Support to allow school boards to bring in outside help or ask questions in the hiring process.  Our district used Dr. Melmer's group to help us find a new superintendent.  As someone that served on a previous committee to hire the superintendent that came before, there were moments of being unsure, but it was appreciative to be able to bring your concerns to the table.  The best method would be a combination of local school with a support system that could be paid for by the state, but not dictated from Pierre to avoid the perception that schools only get people that bow at the feet of the Governor or legislative members in Pierre.

There are several other talking points that could be dissected from the Schoenbeck report (you could expect that in an eight page statement).  Remember that step one must be to first read the report and then sift through the ideas.  I hope that Schoenbeck and anyone else that brainstorms ideas will be willing to listen to the good and the bad of their idea to draw to the best possible solution.




Sunday, July 19, 2015

Mike Rounds Claims to Care About Education NOW

Mike Rounds was no real friend of education when he was governor.  He recently released a press release to celebrate work done with the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA).  In the release he states about No Child Left Behind:
While standards are important, a ‘one-size-fits-all’ directive from the federal government has proven to be the wrong approach and has led teachers to “teach to the test.” Returning education decisions to its rightful place – in the hands of local governments – is a needed replacement to the No Child Left Behind law, which expired in 2007.  Since that time, 42 states have been operating under waivers from No Child Left Behind– proof of just how much reforms have been needed. [Mike Rounds, Friday, July 17, 2015]
Notice that he talks about the failure of NCLB and the idea of teaching to the test.  I guess he hopes we forget that he was the governor that was praised for implementing NCLB in South Dakota.  In 2003 he sang a different tune about the law-
The No Child Left Behind Act focuses on helping each student, not on building a state system or institution, Rounds told school superintendents from across South Dakota.
"The support of education is the support of our children, and that message has to be sent loud and clear," the governor told the superintendents. "The basics mean educating our children one child at a time."...
Officials announced Tuesday that South Dakota is the 31st state to have its accountability plan approved by the U.S. Education Department. The accountability plan sets academic standards, requires additional tests to determine how students are performing and provides assistance to schools that need to improve. 
Rounds said South Dakota should take advantage of the No Child Left Behind Act to improve the way it educates each student, rather then just meet the law's minimum requirements. [Archives from Department of Education June 4, 2003]
In fact the National Governor's Association had this in its description of Rounds:
Working together with the legislature and citizens of South Dakota, he balanced the state budget, reduced the structural deficit, and created a sales tax relief program on food for individuals within 150 percent of the poverty level. Rounds also reorganized the Department of Education to better embrace the concepts of "No Child Left Behind." Rounds served as chairman of the Western Governors Association and as a member of the Executive Committee of the National Governors Association.  (Copyright 2011)
The Senate version of the ECAA is better than the House version in my opinion, and I am glad we can start walking away from NCLB.  I was also glad to see some action being taken about access for schools in "Indian Country" (although the biggest thing that can be done to improve education there is the reduction of poverty, but I doubt he or the GOP want to deal with that issue).

My beef with his statement is that he is running from his record on education and all of the sudden feels bad about something that he claimed was a good idea.  Just like he hates Common Core now, but supported it when he was beginning to run for office.  In 2014 Mitchell Republic they reminded us about his position on Common Core:
Former South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds and several other former governors continue to support Common Core educational benchmarks that they helped develop...Governors and chief state school officers created the Common Core standards, according to BPC. These standards are state-driven and state-implemented and will hold all students to the same academic rigor while forestalling the need for federal intervention in an area traditionally left to the states. (Mitchell Republic Feb. 3, 2014)
I am glad to see the talk about not over-focusing on  testing and some other talk, but it would be better if the person saying it didn't drift in the political winds.  If Rounds truly sees the errs of his ways, then he should admit the mistakes and explain why things are really different now.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Farmer's Union Constitutional Amendment Is Right Thing To Do

You may have heard that the South Dakota Farmer's Union has begun the process of changing the Constitution to make sure the districts are designed by an independent group of people instead of partisan politicians.  This is an issue whose time has come pretty much everywhere and that includes South Dakota.

Gerrymandering (or even the potential) is dangerous in many ways:

1. Gerrymandering creates voter apathy when "safe" districts are used.  As Mary Sanchez, a nationally syndicated columnist, stated:
Clearly, gerrymandering is a political tool of both parties. It is used to strip competition from elections, which contributes to voter apathy.

Why vote when there is nothing you can do about it?  The same person wins over and over despite being in the minority of the state's beliefs, how can I change it.  This becomes a direct threat to the idea of democracy.

2. Gerrymandering creates more polarization in government.  Nathan S. Catanese wrote in the 2014 Notre Dame Law, Ethics, and Public Policy Review:
With more members elected from districts in which there is no threat from an opposing party, there is less incentive for members of Congress to moderate or to make bipartisan deals. This is because the only likelihood of their losing an election is from losing to a more ideologically extreme candidate in a primary election. Ultimately, this polarization leads to less policy-making and more gridlock in Washington.
 3. It makes the elected representatives less concerned about the will of the general constituents and more worried about the primary voter in his or her party only.  From the above cited Notre Dame paper:
...“Influenced by law and economics, public choice theory makes the . . . assumption that individuals are motivated exclusively by self-interest. Thus, legislators are motivated primarily by the desire to be reelected . . . .”127 But if reelection in gerrymandered districts is assured, then legislators lose the motivation to act in a manner that would help to ensure their electoral success. 
Essentially, members of Congress from heavily gerrymandered districts, because of the preordained electoral outcomes in those districts, take it for granted that they will be reelected. Consequently, members of Congress may not listen to the opinions of the entire electorate in their district—they may only care about the opinions of primary voters.128
The next question is "Does South Dakota participate in this practice?"  The answer is yes.  Bob Mercer in a post going after the actions of the amendment wrote:
There’s no question Republicans have drawn the lines to their advantage in recent decades. But how much advantage should be examined. They jammed Democrat Paul Dennert into a difficult position, and he lost to another incumbent, Republican Al Novstrup, in 2012. 
Mercer points out in the article that playing with the boundaries will have little impact on the number of members it elects to Pierre.  In that situation, he is correct.  That, however, is not the issue of the amendment.  It is about doing what is right.  It is about not giving one party (either party) the opportunity to dictate elections.  The South Dakota Farmers Union writes on its website explaining the move:
South Dakota Farmers Union has united with a number of organizations to form the #SDRtThing2Do Coalition. This coalition looks to be a positive force in South Dakota and will begin collecting petition signatures for a Constitutional Amendment on Redistricting very soon. Before voters have the opportunity to vote this Constitutional Amendment into law, the group will need to collect 27,741 signatures to get it on the Nov. 2016 ballot. 
 "For too long we have had misrepresentation as a result of poor redistricting practices," said Wayne Soren, South Dakota Farmers Union Vice President. "South Dakota Farmers Union, along with the other organizations, chose to amend the state's Constitution as it pertains to redistricting because it is the right thing to do." 
Mr. Mercer, that is why you should not pish-posh this idea.  It is not about the parties, it must be about the people.  The implications of gerrymandering is wrong in so many ways, but simply because it is an affront to the basic tenants of representative democracy, that we must work to prevent gerrymandering from happening.

From the South Dakota Farmer's Union website:

 To learn more about #SDRtThing2Do Coalition and learn how you can sign the petition or volunteer to collect petitions, contact Mark Remily, #SDRtThing2Do Coalition Campaign Coordinator at 605-352-6761 ext: 117 or mremily@sdfu.org. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Noem's Wrong Thinking on TANF (but...)

Kristi Noem is recently announced a new bill that she has put forth to change the role of TANF (Temporary Aid to Families).  Before I go into detail about what Noem's legislation would do, it is important to have a basic understanding of what TANF is and some other alphabet soup issues.

TANF is a block grant program that was established in 1996 to provide cash assistance to families in poverty.  The program has been deeply neglected over the years and therefore has lost a lot of it ability to help reduce poverty.  At least that is according to the Hill writer in March of 2014:
There are now more than 20 million people living in deep poverty— below half of the poverty line—including more than 15 million women and children.  That’s an increase of more than 60 percentsince 2000 and a lack of cash assistance is a contributing factor. 
The TANF block grant has lost nearly 30 percent of its value since 1996 because it was never indexed to inflation.   In no state are benefits greater than 50 percent of the poverty line, and in most they are below 30 percent of the poverty line.  
Is this really a model for “successful reform”?  One that leads to fewer people in need receiving assistance, greater deprivation, and diminishing resources at the state level?
To get the grant, states have to show a maintenance of effort requirement (MOE).  The Congressional Budget Office explains the requirement in January 2015 report:
...The most important federal rule is the maintenanceof-effort (MOE) requirement, which is designed to limit the extent to which federal funding displaces money that state governments would otherwise have spent on services for low-income families. Specifically, for each dollar that nonfederal spending on TANF is less than 75 percent of nonfederal spending in 1994 on the programs that preceded TANF, the state loses a dollar of federal funding through the SFAG. (No state has ever been penalized in that way, however.) Related to that rule is an incentive for states to spend more than the MOE requirement: The federal government rewards each state that does so by reducing the number of families that must participate in work-related activities for the state to receive its full allotment of federal funding. 
MOE spending—that is, nonfederal spending that can be counted toward the MOE requirement—must be for services that try to achieve one of TANF’s four goals. And for services that were not part of the programs that TANF replaced, only state spending in excess of 1995 levels can be included in MOE spending. A state can include spending by local governments and nongovernmental entities, such as private charities, that is directed at one of TANF’s goals; however, spending by nongovernmental entities accounted for only 2 percent of MOE spending in 2011.
It is the spending of third parties that states can count towards their MOE that Kristi is targeting:
Some states are counting third-party spending as “state spending” and driving their apparent investments to artificially high levels.  As a result, those states don’t need as many TANF recipients to be engaged in work-related activities in order to continue receiving full federal funding.  Under H.R.2959, states could no longer count spending by third parties as state spending, meaning states would need to engage more adults in work-related activities in exchange for federal benefits, as the program was originally intended. 
Of note, South Dakota does not count third-party spending as state spending in order to reduce the portion of TANF recipients engaged in work-related activities. 
“We need to ensure other states follow South Dakota’s example,” continued Noem.  “By continuing to engage participants in work activities at the level intended, the state has upheld the integrity of the program and ensured the support we provide through TANF is support that really helps struggling families.”
What does the CBO have to say about the impact of this plan in their January 2015 report?
The prohibition would reduce the extent to which some states met the work standard by spending in excess of the MOE requirement; to meet the standard, a number of those states would probably make up for what they had lost by tightening time limits and work requirements. Such measures would be likely to shorten the average duration of assistance and could also reduce the number of families that received that assistance (see Table 4). However, other states might continue to rely on MOE spending to meet the work standard; they could do so by increasing their own spending on TANF, which could fund additional aid for low-income families.
There are two ways to meet the requirements if this goes through and the grant doesn't change in other ways.  One way is that states will come up with more money to fund and increase the case load (South Dakota would definitely come up with more money, right?).  The other way is to reduce the case load to meet the requirements.   

Noem holds South Dakota up as a shining beacon of the proper way to use TANF funds, however, South Dakota's poverty rate has seen increases, it has helped reduce homelessness in South Dakota or helped the poorest counties in the nation; two things she talks about in her press release:
More than 1,000 South Dakotans, including nearly 300 children, were homeless at some point last year, according to a recent report by the South Dakota Housing for the Homeless. What is perhaps more shocking is that three of the five lowest-income counties in the country are located in our state. For many impacted by poverty, it’s been a challenge that has been passed from one generation to the next. I want to help end that cycle. 
In the end, Mrs. Noem's actions I think would do nothing to improve TANF or help people get employment.  In some cases, you can't get employment if there are no jobs to be had.  I actually don't have a problem not allowing states to use third-party spending for the MOE.  Some states are not using it to help more people but to simply reduce their own spending needs.  However, and reduction needs other very significant changes.  In a hearing on this exact issue in 2012, the third-party issue was discussed, but most people seem to think that the problem was really how the work equation was used was the real problem.  The other problem is the lack of funding of the program.  These issues should be included in the reform, otherwise your idea of improving TANF will not increase employment and only hurt those in the greatest need.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Slightly Humorous Thoughts on a Hot Summer Night

It is too hot to get all political today.  I will save that for tomorrow after I have had a chance to do a little research into something.  Reading the paper and some news sites, I came across a few things that made me chuckle.  It's that or I was in the beginnings of heat exhaustion, so I wanted to quick share them:

Funny #1 Marty Jackley is South Dakota's Drug Kingpin

In an article from today's Argus Leader, Steve Young's story about some of the issues being "worked out" between Marty and the Flandreau Sioux Tribe over the issue of growing and selling marijuana on reservation soil gave some insight how Marty is thinking of twisting federal policy to what ever it is he wants.  With the story, they showed a picture of Marty Jackley standing before a press conference of which I can only assume is his announcement of world-domination.   Picture was taken by Jay Pickhom:



Funny #2: GOP Treasurer is in a war on Christmas?

The Rapid City Journal ran with the headline: Treasurer is South Dakota's Santa Claus!  The article talks about how Rich Sattgast as SD Treasurer gets to try and return unclaimed property.  Sattgast himself does not claim that he is Santa Claus, which is good because Fox News probably would have been all over him like a person with food aid holding a lobster.  The story is a good reminder to check sdtreasurer.gov to see if you have any presents under the South Dakota Christmas tree.

Funny #3: Hillary Clinton Turns into a Wrangler

This afternoon in the hot car I caught some of Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me on NPR.  They talked about the story involving Hillary Clinton, a parade, and rounding reporters up like cattle.  I think Hillary might be trying to pick up some West River votes in case the election is tight like 2008.  Here is an image from CNN:


Now it is time to do a little digging on Kristi Noem.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Call for Special Session for Education Is a Big Trojan Horse

A group of Republican legislators out west are calling for a special session because they think that something needs to be done NOW to improve education funding in South Dakota.  This is made up of many of the same people that claimed that there was no reason to vote an opt-out in Rapid City because they should let the Blue Ribbon Panel do its job.  This same group of legislative members now think that the Blue Ribbon Panel is not acting fast enough.  They want to talk about Common Core and maybe some methods of funding education to help schools out before things begin.  Forget the fact that schools have already handed our contracts and they could have taken these ideas up in January and February (the additional funds this year could be handed out as bonuses I suppose and maybe they were too focused on talking about Common Core to think about funding).

If funding is the prime reason for the special session, then why bring up Common Core?  Because that is all these legislative member seem to really care about.  They are not worried about funding.  They feel driven to stick it to the Common Core.  Bob Mercer calls it for exactly what it is:
...May is part of a core of hard conservatives including House Republicans Lynne DiSanto of Rapid City, Lance Russell of Custer, Chip Campbell of Rapid City and Sam Marty of Prairie City, along with Sen. Phil Jensen, R-Rapid City, who don’t support the Blue Ribbon education task force convened by Gov. Dennis Daugaard. Common Core is one thing, but changing the standards used on student achievement assessments won’t pay the grocery bill or the rent or the mortgage or the student loan or the utility bill or the gas station or the bank loan for the vehicle that gets a teacher to the school. If teacher pay is the problem, in a state that perpetually ranks at the bottom of the national ranking for teacher pay, there is only one way to address the situation, and that’s to find the two-thirds majorities needed in the House and the Senate to approve revenue increases and dedicate the money to paying more to teachers. A special session is window shopping — and so is a Blue Ribbon task force, frankly — without a solution of more tax money in hand.
This is not to say that they don't have some idea on education funding.  One is to use the money from the SD Lottery revenue and another is 2% of the South Dakota sales tax.  A final idea is to establish a system that would actually hurt public schools: A Savings Account like in Arizona

The idea was already floated last session as SB189 but with a twist of allowing Insurance companies to pay for it and then get a tax deduction.   Simple logic shows that this idea actually will hurts schools and their ability to fund teachers and educational needs.  Especially smaller schools not located in larger cities.

Yes, we need to take action on better funding for education in this state.  If that was the primary concern, then take Common Core off the table, but funding seems only a distant secondary concern to these legislative members.  Pat Powers over at Dakota War College expressed this idea:
The task force is focused on funding and teacher pay. Not curriculum standards that are already argued about ad nauseum already during session. 
And who cares if they’re going to have a list of who votes on a special session? I’d be watching it to see who wants to waste taxpayer dollars on a special session. 
As a parent with 4 kids left to be educated in the K-12 system, my vote is to let the task force do it’s job.
Actually my vote was to deal with the problem YEARS ago, but since that didn't happen I have to put some hope on this Blue Ribbon Panel.  If the panel cannot come up with more funds, then as Mercer said that this will be nothing more than political "window dressing."

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Marty Jackley Doubles Down on Lack of Constitutional Knowledge

The ACLU tries to explain to our State Attorney General that his claim that state employees can choose not to provide marriage license if it violates the clerks "religious" beliefs.  The logic behind the statement is so flawed, it confuses me how a person could pass a bar examine and still make asinine comments like this.  (I had pointed out earlier that this line of thinking hark ens back to 1954 mentality when Brown v. Board of Education became the law of the land.)  Marty Jackley does not take the news too well.

Marty states in his response:
“It is disappointing to learn that the ACLU, who in their own words, works to “defend and preserve the Constitution’s promise of liberty for everyone in our country”, is now choosing to place certain Constitutional Rights ahead of others....
As Attorney General, it is not my intent to ignore established law and sue a county or arrest a county employee for exercising the well-established Constitution Right to the Freedom of Religion given that same-sex couples have been and are receiving marriage licenses in South Dakota. Rather than accepting the ACLU’s position, I support commonsense solutions protecting everyone’s Constitutional Rights in South Dakota which ensure same-sex couples continue receiving marriage licenses as now required by law,” said Attorney General Jackley. 
Let's breakdown the line of thinking.  If Jackley believes that people can pick and choose not to issue a marriage license despite the fact that is a part of their job because of religious beliefs, he then must apply it across the board.  That same person can then deny the issuing of a license to an inter-racial couple based on religious reasons.  That same person could choose to deny the issuing of a marriage license to a couple that is divorced and re-marrying.  That same person could choose to deny the issuing of a marriage license to a couple if one would be an atheist and one would be a believer.
  
The Argus Leader lets Jackley voice a really, really false analogy when he tries to compare people in his office executing someone to processing the paperwork so two people can be legally joined:
Jackley compared the issue to death penalty prosecutions. Assistant attorneys general in his office with religious objections to the death penalty are not obliged to handle appeals cases from death row inmates, he said, though doing so is part of the office's caseload.
The person not being assigned by your office to handle the appeal process is not same as looking at the person/couple across a window and saying, "What your doing is an abomination of God and I refuse to be part of it.  You will need to go to another county if you want to get married.  You are unworthy compared to the couple behind you."  

It is not acceptable to allow a clerk to pick and choose what work they do based on the individual's belief system.  If that person can't handle the job, they should reconsider where they want to work.  If a clerk thinks that someone is performing a legal but unfair business transaction (paying someone $1000 for a car when the car is probably worth $1700) they can't declare religious convictions and allow someone else to do the work.  This is not denying them their beliefs, this is them denying 

South Dakota continues to prove exactly how stuck the thinking of the government can be when it decides to apply fair and equal treatment to all.