Holding S.D. kids’ future hostage isn’t the answer

Governor Dennis Daugaard gave me both great cheer as a Democrat and deep fear as a South Dakotan when he delivered his first State of the State speech last week.

He detailed plans to reform our tax incentive programs, examine the need for the state’s fleet of airplanes, and allow local officials to choose the appropriate educational policies for their school districts – efforts proposed by Democrats and consistently blocked by Republicans including Daugaard for years.

For the sake of South Dakotans, I hope Governor Daugaard adopts these Democratic ideas to balance the budget. Tax loopholes favoring a foreign oil company during Daugaard’s tenure as Lt. Governor have already cost South Dakota $38 million. And South Dakota’s fleet of airplanes has cost taxpayers nearly $250,000 a year for the last three years.

But Daugaard’s insistence to deny $60 million for our children’s education should give all South Dakotans great pause: this cut undermines our school districts’ ability to provide quality education and our children’s ability to excel.

To be sure, I agree with Governor Daugaard when he says, “We shouldn’t measure our education system by the money we spend but by the success of our students.” But where does that leave us today?

Just over a week ago, Education Week, a non-partisan group that grades the education systems of each state gave South Dakota a D plus. That puts us 49th in the country – a position that Daugaard’s Director of Policy and Communication says shouldn’t concern us.

49th out of 50 should be as unacceptable for South Dakota as it would be for our own children.

How Governor Daugaard intends to improve our standing by refusing them the resources they need to succeed should concern anyone who has a child attending school in South Dakota. An “addition by subtraction” mentality will only hurt our children who deserve public early childhood education programs, quality k-12 education, and innovative research opportunities at our institutions of higher education.

The truth is funding disparities and uneven investment have already required South Dakota’s school districts to make unpleasant cuts for years. This has forced many communities to raise their property taxes in order to ensure an unparalleled education for their children and a good-paying job when they complete it. Our local communities should not have to make up for the Daugaard’s denial of an unparalleled education guaranteed by our state’s constitution.

We can do better but not if we force our school kids to get by on budget cuts of 10%.

Indeed, South Dakota does have a structural deficit problem – a problem stoked by a 53% increase in state government spending since the beginning of the Rounds/Daugaard administration. But we can’t place that burden on the shoulders of our children.

Let’s instead hold ourselves to a higher standard – one that enables the success of our students without denying them the resources to do it, that returns spending to the pace of inflation or 3% annually, and that ensures opportunity without sacrificing economic security for us all.

That is the Democratic plan I support. South Dakotans deserve no less.

*This was originally published January 27th, 2011 in the Mitchell Daily Republic.

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