Monday, June 29, 2015

GOP Shows Flashes of 1954 Thinking

I was excited and relieved when I heard the news of the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality for all as a basic right that is not dependent on race, religion, or gender of the ones wishing to marry. This ruling understands that extending the right to marry is something that must be protected to all.  In doing so, South Dakota leaders reluctantly accepted the court rulings, but it appears that some are not exactly ready to accept the ruling.  Cory Heidelberger discusses at Dakota Free Press Blog about the comments by a Meade County Commissioner Alan Aker.  You can go and read the rantings if you would like to waste some time.

Several other GOP leaders have made this issue of standing up against the ruling of the Supreme Court front and center.  The Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton, has declared that county clerks can refuse to issue marriage licenses because of religious objections.   
“It is important to note that any clerk who wishes to defend their religious objections and who chooses not to issue licenses may well face litigation and/or a fine. But, numerous lawyers stand ready to assist clerks defending their religious beliefs, in many cases on a pro-bono basis, and I will do everything I can from this office to be a public voice for those standing in defense of their rights. 
“Texas must speak with one voice against this lawlessness, and act on multiple levels to further protect religious liberties for all Texans, but most immediately do anything we can to help our County Clerks and public officials who now are forced with defending their religious beliefs against the Court’s ruling.”
Other GOP members are speaking against the ruling.  They are fine to state their objection to the rulings.  They are fine to "respectfully" disagree.  They are not fine to advocate opposing the giving of rights.  These statements remind me of George Wallace standing at the door to prevent desegregation of schools...
We have placed this sign, "In God We Trust," upon our State Capitol on this Inauguration Day as physical evidence of determination to renew the faith of our fathers and to practice the free heritage they bequeathed to us. We do this with the clear and solemn knowledge that such physical evidence is evidently a direct violation of the logic of that Supreme Court in Washington D.C., and if they or their spokesmen in this state wish to term this defiance . . . I say . . . then let them make the most of it. 
This nation was never meant to be a unit of one . . . but a united of the many . . . . that is the exact reason our freedom loving forefathers established the states, so as to divide the rights and powers among the states, insuring that no central power could gain master government control. 
In united effort we were meant to live under this government . . . whether Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Church of Christ, or whatever one's denomination or religious belief . . . each respecting the others right to a separate denomination . . . each, by working to develop his own, enriching the total of all our lives through united effort. And so it was meant in our political lives . . . whether Republican, Democrat, Prohibition, or whatever political party . . . each striving from his separate political station . . . respecting the rights of others to be separate and work from within their political framework . . . and each separate political station making its contribution to our lives . . . 
I can only hope that we continue to move forward as a state.  As Stu Whitney said in today's Argus Leader...
But if America continues to see the same progress on social issues that occurred over the past decade, fighting against basic concepts such as gay rights and universal health care will make South Dakota appear out of touch and hopelessly irrelevant, as many outsiders view us already. 
"The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times," wrote Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy in his majority opinion, and our state's leaders should take note. True leadership comes from flexibility in the face of shifting circumstances, not merely drawing a line in the sand.
We are not there yet, but maybe someday we will be. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Observations on Blue Ribbon Panel- Educator Edition

Today, I attended the Sioux Falls Blue Ribbon panel meeting focusing on people in the education field.  The meeting room had about 100 people from the surrounding area.  It was not limited to only educators, but several others were there.  Included in the mix nine legislative members not including the Blue Ribbon panel (I can happily say that Herman Otten and Issac Latterell from District 6 were there) legislative members of Rep. Sly and Sen. Soholt.  The legislative members did not get to give speeches, but were at tables during the small group discussions.  Finally, some Daugaard administration members were there as well.  Dr. Melody Schopp, Tony Venhuizen, and Patrick Weber were also in attendance.  

After introductions and talk/explanation about "the process," we were able to start discussing three questions.  Frustratingly it took 30 minutes to get to this point.  The first table I sat at included a retired teacher that taught in both South Dakota and Minnesota, a teacher that teaches K-8 at a colony school, a retired world language teacher, a returning to the field teacher going to Lake Andes, a math teacher from Sioux Falls Lincoln, and myself (an English teacher from Lennox).  

We had a little time to introduce ourselves, and then started talking about the first question: When you think of funding schools in your local community, what is important to you? (This is paraphrased and not exact.)  We went around and wrote and discussed responses to the question.  We were given fifteen minutes to discuss.  From our discussion, the main ideas at the table included finding and keeping quality teachers, the loss of academic programs (fine arts for example), the treatment and appreciation of teachers, and providing students with a well-rounded opportunity.  Our group then could pick up to three to star and share one idea in quick one or two sentence statement.  The ideas from the group would be placed on a spot on the wall (there were spots to include business and general public for later in the day).  The rooms main concern could basically be summed up as the teacher shortage.  Also near the top included pay and incentives and treatment of teachers (respect for the profession).  Then the bell (a real bell was used) would ring and we changed groups and tackled the next question.

The second question asked what new approaches could be developed to achieve the issues from question one.  Increased financing was the biggest thing brought up.  Some ideas were an income tax, corporate tax, and making the lottery money dedicated back to education.  Also included were promotion of respect from Pierre for teachers, coming and watching teachers teach for a day, incentives, funding college funding for teachers, and other incentives.

The third question was advice to the Blue Ribbon panel as they go forward.    Some of the suggestions included to treat educators as professionals, look for long term solutions instead of band-aid approaches, don't back down and fight in Pierre, and my favorite, there is a lot of skepticism that anything will get done since this is the eleventh task force in seventeen years, so they need to prove they can accomplish something.  During this third question I had the chance to sit with Rep. Klumb from the Mitchell area.  What worried me was his real belief that we should fund higher education less or not at all and use the money for K-12 education.  

After the third question, the bell rang and we were done.  We discussed in our small groups for one hour and it was wrapped up by 3:30.  I was a bit disappointed in the whole process.  It felt a bit lacking.  As I mentioned in an earlier blog, what is meaningful funding for education?  We ended with a lot of vague ideas of what is important (quality teachers and access to well-rounded education), but I don't think that this gets to the heart of the question of "meaningful education."  In the end all that seemed to be collected was a bunch of random statements that will be summarized as data and probably turned in one of those word clouds.  We will be left with a panel with only two of the 26 people on the panel that are currently teaching.  We have six people that are not teachers or administrators, four school administrators, and one person representing the board of regents (school board members are part of the non-teacher/administrator group).  

In the end, however, it will come down those not on the panel, but to the legislative members that we elected.  This is where many pause on hopes of change happening.  It was in large part that this group voted down the non-binding resolution in 2014 that there was a teacher shortage problem in South Dakota in part caused by a lack of funding.  It was in large part this group that has continued to claim that they would love to do something about education, but there is no money for it based on our current funding force.  It is this administration that has time and time and time again said that money is not the solution.  Forgive me if I don't hold my breath for too long.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Humble Proposal for Finding Additional Funds for Education

On June 16, the Blue Ribbon Task Force will be in Sioux Falls to discuss the following question (and possibly the only question, but time will tell): What possibilities are there to meaningfully fund education for our kids and our communities?   We are currently in Phase 1 of the process of listening to feedback from the public, appointing members, and other "listening/gathering" steps.

I would like to start with a question: What is the definition of "meaningfully"?  I will be very interested to hear if this get defined or has been defined to allow for development of the discussion.  Maybe it is Cory's suggestion at Dakota Free Press of $60,000 for each teacher or maybe it is a constant funding stream of 2% or maybe it is close all public schools and make students attend private charter or religious schools with the state providing a voucher of $4,000 for all students.  I think a majority of people would look at it from a level of being in the 70% of the US national average and be closer to all of our neighbors like Nebraska, Iowa, or North Dakota.  South Dakota's average salary was about $40,000 compared to our nearest neighbor of North Dakota at $48,600 and Nebraska at $49,500.  Those states are at a level of 85% and 86.5% respectively of the national average.  That would mean increasing funding just for teacher's salaries by an average of $8,000 at least.  That means increasing around $73 million.

To accomplish this, funds will need to come from a variety of places.  I offer this as a starting point by doing some quick looking at our state budget.  Examining what I consider to be "non-essential" services (These are parts of the government whose job does not impact the whole of the state) and making some cuts to those programs to help our schools, we can at least have a jumping off point.  Here are my recommendations with some justification:

First is the Department of Tourism- Cut their General Funds of $1.94 million.  Funds from other sources could be shifted to cover the loss on the "history" component. 

Next is from Executive Management which eats up nearly $31 million of the general funds budget.  (Don't get me started on the fact the Governor's office wants to increase that to nearly $46 million, an amount that would increase school budgets by more than $105 per student just on the "proposed" increase alone).  I have broken these down from certain sub-groups-

GOED- $2.49 million.  They saw an increase of $15 million from other funding sources, so I think that they can do without their general funds amount.

Bureau of Finance and Management- $4 million.  They say an increase of $5 million from other funds.  For some reason it says that the Governor would like to increase this areas total budget for 2016 by more than $33 million. 

Bureau of Administration- $3 million.  This agency saw an increase of over $6 million between 2014 and 2015.  The governor wants to add another $1.6 million for 2016.

Next is from Legislature- $644,000.  This is basically the increase in "personal services" between 2014 and 2015.  It is not much, but every little bit helps.

Department of Agriculture- $600,000.  This was the general funds increase between 2014 and 2015.  It also saw an increase of federal and other funds of nearly $4 million.

This simple beginning would increase funding by around $98 per student.  It doesn't get to $73 million, but it is a start.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Pay to Play Hurts the Community: Part 2 in a Series

A few days ago I wrote about how pay to play in public schools hurts the lower and middle class students and families.  The idea to use activities as a tool to balance budgets is something that has little upside and some very big downsides.  One of the downsides I would like to focus on is the impact that it would have on the community.

Sports and extra-curricular activities like band and debate are additional vehicles to help teach students important life skills that can be taken into the community, and in many cases, become a source of pride for the community.  Last night I had an opportunity to watch the movie McFarland with my family.  If you are not familiar with the movie, it shows the sort of impact sports can have on a community.  It provided a sense of belonging for the students and a sense of pride for the community.

This sense of community has many upsides for the town and community they are involved in as a whole.  Darryl Hill, an advocate for youth sports, wrote in the National Journal on January 31, 2014:
I think sports are an integral part of our society, not only to the individuals who play but to the community in which they live. Sports brings kids together, it breeds understanding and racial balance. And then the young people who play are typically just better citizens top to bottom—less likely to drop out of school, do drugs, get pregnant, be touched by the law. One of the most startling statistics I've read is a study of female executives in Fortune 500 top companies [in which] upward of 90 percent had played high school sports, which speaks volumes on what sports do.  
Sports teach people camaraderie, time management, winning and losing, balance, and teamwork, and patience, being more assertive, more aggressive. The list goes on and on. On the downside, if a kid is idle, we know where that can often lead—and not just to bad health and obesity but to other antisocial behavior. That's particularly telling in the underserved communities, but they're the ones being impacted the most by the commercialization of youth sports.
Before you think that this is just a sports fan pushing ideas without any research, I encourage to consider the studies.  Several studies have reported the positive impact that sports can have for students and the communities that they live in...
Research has shown that the longer youth play sport, the greater attachment they have to their community, according to a series of measures. Studies using data from the University of Maryland’s National Youth Survey of Civil Engagement show that sport participants, compared to those who do not participate in sport, are more likely to register to vote (66 percent versus 44 percent) and to follow the news (41 percent versus 27 percent).57Studies by Eccles and Barber50 show that youth sport participation is positively related to adult involvement in community activities that can last a lifetime. Youth who participate in sport are more likely to make friends, including those of different races.58 Young athletes are better able to acquire emotional control, learn the value of teamwork, and exhibit initiative,59 all social skills that can contribute to a better community. However, with many of these findings, the associations could be correlative rather than causal, because youth who choose to be highly engaged in sport also may chose to be highly engaged in other community activities. 
There is no question that providing opportunities for youth to play sport provides community benefit—if for no other reason than idle time can be filled with activities that are healthy and positive. For example, when Phoenix, Arizona, basketball courts and other recreational facilities were kept open until 2 a.m. during summer hours, juvenile crime dropped 55 percent.60 Similarly, crime rates dropped by 24 percent after late night recreation programs were started in Cincinnati, Ohio.61 
When you decide to target sports and drive students from it with pay to play schemes, you hurt the student, the school and the entire community.  When you claim that you don't want your tax dollars to pay for sports, then think of your tax dollars helping pay to make the community a better place.  

I am not saying that every extra-curricular activity is extremely beneficial.  A lot of it depends on the way the activity is done.  A focus on mastery of skills and self- and team-improvement is vital to getting the best bang for the tax dollar.  If that is not the case where you live, try to change that attitude instead of lashing out at all activities.  Every child does not need to be the football star, but when students are able to be part of a group, then they get the chance to feel like a vital part of something.  This is what we need more of; not less. 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Pay to Play in school sports is a bad idea

Rapid City schools are going to need to make some significant changes and cuts to programs.  This will have a significant impact on the students and community.  One of the more consistent arguments to reduce school spending is to make extra-curricular activities pay-to-play.  This is something that gets brought up a lot when it comes to school funding and a response to why there is no need for increased funding from the state.  I think it is important to offer some counter-arguments as to why making schools implement a pay-to-play scheme is a really disastrous idea.  To be fair, I need to make it known that I coach an co-curricular activity; speech and debate.  This will be a multiple series of blogs to avoid them becoming too long.

1. Pay-to-play will hurt lower and middle-class students.
School has always been one of the great equalizers if fighting income inequality.  It doesn't matter if you are rich or poor, schools will work to provide a quality educational opportunity to all it sees.  It cannot overcome those that can afford private tutors, going on amazing trips for educational experiences, or people that can afford private coaches.  However, when I have a student sitting in my classroom, I don't care how much his or her parents make, I care if they are learning.  When a student tells me they want to debate, I don't care how much money he or she brings to the table, but are they going to work and grow as a speaker and a thinker.

When activities need to start charging a fee for children to play, it drives students away from the activity. Students and the parents see the burden and are then forced to make a hard choice.  A recent survey of parents supports this idea:
Sports participation among lower-income students decreased by 10% compared to the May 2012 poll on the same subject. Even among parents in higher-income households, nearly 1 in 10 parents said their child had decreased sports participation because of cost – twice as high as reported in 2012. 
I have seen the struggle from students, and we do not charge students to participate in the activity.  We do ask that they pay for meals while we are at tournaments and any other costs.  Every weekend, I seem to have one student that will pass on McDonald's on the way home at six o'clock because they do not have money.  I once had a student tell me that they did not know if they could go to the state competition because they did not have money to eat.  Talked to my administrator and looked for ways to provide some monetary support to all students so they can get some food.  We now look at ways to bring snacks, water, and other items to support them while they compete, so that can help reduce costs.

You may be thinking that it really doesn't cost that much.  If they really want to do it, then the parents can come up with the money.  If I had to ask a student to come up with the costs of going to debate tournaments, (we always looking for the best deal available which can be seen in my students' face when we pull up to some of the hotels) it would probably be about $300-$500 per student.  It would hurt the program and it would prevent a learning experience for students.

Sarah Clarke, a research scientist with University of Michigan and associate director of the National Poll on Children's Health, stated about the 2015 survey mentioned earlier but on the University of Michigan Health System website:
The poll found the average school sports participation fee was $126 per child; while 38 percent paid $0 in participation fees—some receiving waivers for those fees—18 percent paid $200 or more. 
In addition to the participation fees, parents in the poll reported an average of $275 in other sports-related costs like equipment and travel. 
“So the average cost for sports participation was $400 per child. For many families, that cost is out of reach,” Clark says.
When people argue that schools should not support extra-curricular activities and they should be pay-to-play, then remember that they are looking for ways to exclude students from participating.  That exclusion has an impact (I will talk more about that in a later post) for the child.  This is not what public education is supposed to be about.  

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Rapid City loses based on some really STUPID logic

I am sad to see the general lack of support for Rapid City education after the failure of the opt-out vote.  The impact of this vote will have serious consequences for the students and the community.  Cory posts the school board's reaction to the failure of the vote at Dakota Free Press.  The school board is exactly correct when it said
 "With this 'no' vote on the opt-out, it is time for your School Board to start dismantling the departments of the school district in our community," School  Board President Jim Hansen said. "Unfortunately, the school district alone will not be the loser, but the effects from this 'no' vote, our community will suffer as well."
I understand that tax-payers are upset that there will be an increase in taxes and the tax burden is high for those not seeing increases in salaries or real wages.  I also understand that there is concern with the amount that administration may be getting paid.  I think that those can be legitimate concerns, but not enough to handcuffing your children's future and placing them in a position that they never created. 

One of the worst reasons given for not supporting the opt-out is that this will make Pierre listen and do more.  Here is one post from the Rapid City Journal that captures this feeling:
I would agree with the thought that we need to improve the pay for the teaching profession here in SD - but I don't think the Opt-Out was the way to go.  
Our legislature needs to step up to the plate, and increase our revenue by slightly reducing some tax breaks that have been given to certain groups for decades, cases in point are the break we give the credit card companies, and the Alcohol plants that produce alcohol for gasoline, (a process by the way that doesn't do what it's supposed to do - in my opinion). This list can go on and on.... 
 If anyone thinks that this will "send a message to Pierre," then I would like to know why they have not heard all of the other "messages."  Even if it sent a message to Pierre, the damage will still be done to the students.  The cuts will have to be made, because the school budget for next year has already been established.  The earliest that increased funding could come from Pierre is for 2016-2017 school year.  What is the school district supposed to do until then?

Local Rapid City are representatives actually tried to use this argument just days before the election.
Four state representatives called today for voters to reject the Rapid City school district's proposed opt–out of property tax limits citing the pending work of a blue ribbon task force examining school funding issues.
Todd Brink, supporter for the opt-out, summed this illogical thought process when he said:
"It's ironic that on the eve of the election they would arrive and say 'Let's just wait a year and see what happens in Pierre,' when these are four or our elective representatives that we sent to Pierre to solve these problems and find policy solutions in the past,” he said.
I worry about the impact of this result will have on the students.  Those in the community that did not vote or voted against it should worry about what will happen when schools have to close, programs disappear, and the district will see those that can leave Rapid City for better educational opportunities in surrounding communities.  However, you have no one to blame but yourselves.