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.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this summary. I hope all legislators take the time to read it.