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.