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.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

How to React

This blog has been silent for a long time.  My life has been busy and my mind was simply questioning if what was said really mattered.  This time, however, I feel compelled to respond to recent events that have shaken the community in which I live.  

Lennox has suffered several tragic losses in just a few days time thanks to gun violence.  The first involved an 18 year old man named Anthony Gaberiel.  The second involved a killing of John Richter and a shooting of Kathy Steever at a place about one block from where I teach high schoolers.  

These events for me have been surreal and it has difficult to fully process what has happened.  Life continues in the community and with the students.  Basketball games happened, debate tournaments were attended, and school will take place on Tuesday after President's day.  The question will remain: How will we, as a community and as individuals,  eventually react to these tragedies?  I do not know for sure, but I hope that the reaction is not one of pushing a gunslinger mentality.

Brian Roesler, a third victim and a person that confronted Jeffrey DeZeeuw, is talking about how he will probably now get a conceal and carry permit for a gun.  I understand his reaction and his thinking; however, the thinking that if everyone walks around with a gun, like the old west, then we will be safer is wrong.  Unfortunately, this line of thinking is heavily entrenched in our society and encouraged by our legislature.  

In a KSFY report, they decided to interview people attending a gun show where you can purchase guns without a background check.  One person interviewed shared a common theme of why they need to be armed all the time:
"It's a crazy world out there. Unfortunately in the great state we live in, there's loony-toons everywhere," said J.R. Bliss, gun enthusiast. 
Just two days after the deadly Lennon shooting, one of the biggest gun shows in the state is in Sioux Falls -- The Dakota Territory Gun Collectors Association Gun Show. Gun enthusiasts say today -- more than ever -- it's important to protect yourself. 
"People say 'oh guns are so bad.' The weapon doesn't hurt or kill people; it's the guy behind it. And it's such great events like this that makes it possible to show proper training, the proper usage, the showing of how you can use these things correctly," said Bliss. 
The problem with this line of thinking is that I am pretty sure that Jeffery DeZeeuw thought in his mind that he was a responsible gun owner before the shooting.  

I knew Anthony Gaberiel and he was no "loony-toon."  He was a by all accounts a normal, young adult that got into an argument and whose outcome was made fatal thanks to the involvement of guns.  

Bills like HB 1116SB 192, and HB1206, which would allow more young adults on our college campuses to carry weapons, are part of the problem of the gunslinger mentality.  If guns were the answer to preventing violence, then how did events like Anthony's death and the shooting and killings at Sioux Steel happen?  There are many, many, many people that are responsible when it comes to gun ownership and gun safety.  Unfortunately, there are many, many, many of others (and the same people) can become reckless and whose mental condition may change over time.

I don't have answers or fully understand the events of the past few days.  I am not condemning people that choose to responsibly own guns for sport, for collection, and even for protection.  The only thing I know is that more gunslingers walking around armed will not bring peace.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Taking the Side of the Train

Stop this train 
I want to get off and go home again 
I can't take the speed it's moving in 
I know I can't but honestly won't someone stop this train
Those lyrics by John Mayer are probable not exactly what the people of Enderlin in North Dakota were thinking when they felt the need to ban trains from taking breaks longer than 10 minutes in their city limits.  This has caused Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. to sue the town according to a report from Reuters.
Partly thanks to North Dakota's energy boom, twenty-eight of the railroad's trains now traverse the city every day. Each carry hundreds of tank cars filled with oil or grain. Some idle as long as four hours, inconveniencing motorists, stranding pedestrians and posing logistical challenges for ambulances and firefighters. 
Desperate for a solution, Enderlin's city councilors last month banned train breaks longer than 10 minutes. The railroad has, in turn, sued the city of nearly 900 in federal court. Canadian Pacific contends the order violates interstate commerce laws. The railroad's lawyers also asked a judge to grant a temporary injunction. 
It appears that this is a classic battle of business desires trumping human safety.  I would guess that business will win out in the battle.  The claim is simple.  A town can not regulate the rail line that is for interstate commerce.  That is the Feds job.

The only problem is when the train sits and sits in the town, it prevents first responders from getting to an emergency on the other side.  

Fighting back, Enderlin said in its own court filings that human safety should trump any financial harm to the company. It's not clear how much Enderlin is spending to defend itself, and city officials did not have data readily available. But Canadian Pacific has asked for the city to pay the railroad's legal fees should it prevail. 
Still, it's a fight Enderlin seems happy to pursue. 
As Scott DeFehr, who has lived in Enderlin for 14 years, wrote in a letter to the court, the city has residents "whose safety and very lives are threatened by the blocking of rail crossings."
It is time to stop caving into oil's needs when weighed against the rights and safety of people.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Argus Leader Nearly Gets It Right

The Sunday Voices section of today's paper had two articles examining failing funding approaches of this administration.  One was a news article from the soon departed David Montgomery about Daugaard's approach to managing the government.   The second was an editorial calling for more funding for education.

The editorial points to new information about a problem that has been well documented and ignore by Pierre for years.  That we will soon not have people to teach our students.
How bad is teacher pay in South Dakota? 
So bad that they are leaving — as more and more teachers retire, fewer are entering. 
According to a report by the School Administrators of South Dakota, 1,004 teachers are eligible for retirement this year. Meanwhile, there are just 726 seniors among education programs prepared to enter the workforce. 
The main factor? Low teacher pay.
These warnings are not new.  Unfortunately there is no reason why we should expect this to change.  In talking about the proposed summer tax increase to help increase education funding, Daugaard makes his position clear.

There is hope, however. A proposed one-cent sales tax hike during the summer months would raise $40 million to $45 million to increase wages, according to Wade Pogany, executive director of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota. 
But Daugaard probably won’t be on board.
“I don’t see myself supporting something like that,” he said after his budget address.
So what is an educator to do other than leave?  This is where the editorial staff gets it all wrong.  Their solution is to accept the rejected proposal of 2012 and take incentive-based increases.  Basically, make education worse and the climate worse, and the Governor may throw you a few bones.
Daugaard wanted to make a statewide teacher evaluation system mandatory and partially use student performance to impose merit-based bonuses. Voters said no by a 2-to-1 margin. 
If a compromise on the issue is needed to increase teacher pay, the union should strongly consider it. 
Everyone needs to work together to help avoid the teacher shortage, which will get only worse if nothing is done.
The solution is not accepting bad policy that has been shown to create a more hostile work environment (that is not going to encourage people into going into education).  The teacher union has offered many, many different approaches at compromise.  It is not time for giving in.  We have tried that.  I leave you with a selection of Patrick Henry's words from his speech to the Virginia Convention:
Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves. Sir, we have done everything that could be done, to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne. In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free² if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending²if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained, we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! 
It is time to fight.  It is time to be vocal to both the legislators and executive office.  Teachers need to start descending on Pierre and show up to coffee talks with our legislators.  Put some pressure on Pierre, and then, maybe then, something can be done.  The solution is not bowing before Daugaard for scraps to make things worse.