Listen to Constituent Concerns with Controversial Education Agenda

After receiving thousands of emails, hundreds of calls, and dozens of questions at cracker barrels from constituents concerned about Governor Daugaard’s controversial education agenda (HB 1234), Republican legislators advanced HB 1234 despite even their own concerns with the measure.

This controversial distraction must end, says Democratic House Leader Rep. Bernie Hunhoff (D-Yankton). “With so many controversial and unproven ideas incorporated in this education bill, we need to set this aside and focus on fixing the problems we created last year by cutting education funding across the state.” The state legislature had frozen education funding for a year and then cut the state funding formula by 8.6% last year.

Last year’s school cuts followed years of underfunding schools, causing property taxes to rise across the state in districts that opted out of state funding formula. When the federal government sent $26 million to bolster education, state officials kept the money in the bureaucracy instead of sending it to schools as other states did.

Rep. Susan Wismer (D-Britton) says school districts are still struggling with the consequences of those cuts this year, and since every school district has different needs, every school district has their own solution. “Governor Daugaard’s education agenda imposes a one-size-fits-all solution on our local school districts,” says Wismer. “The answer is simple: rebuild the school funding formula, and let local school boards decide.”

Governor Daugaard’s controversial education agenda has faced intense scrutiny at cracker barrels across South Dakota. Future teachers, current administrators, and students have questioned how ending continuing contract, imposing testing-based merit pay for teachers, and giving bonuses for only new teachers of math and science will improve student achievement or fill the needs of diverse school districts.

Rep. Elaine Elliot (D-Aberdeen), a former teacher, reiterated concerns her constituents shared about the education reform bill. “Ending continuing contract destroys due process for our teachers. Merit-based pay will compromise teamwork in our schools, and bonuses for only teachers of certain subjects devalues the contribution all our teachers make towards student achievement,” says Elliot. “If student achievement is our aim, why are some Republicans pushing an unproven education agenda without fixing the problems they created last year?”

Last week, Democrats in Pierre called for a cease-fire on this controversial education agenda after six Republicans in Pierre claimed to forge a compromise education bill. School administrators, teachers, parents, and students were not included in the compromise talks.

Today on the House floor, Rep. Bernie Hunhoff (D-Yankton) proposed a hoghouse amendment to create an education task force in partnership with teachers, school administrators, school board members, the Department of Education, business community and other stakeholders with the goal to “develop the best elementary and secondary education in the United States.” That measure was defeated. “If the Governor’s education agenda passes as it stands today, it will remove local control, hurt collaboration, and still fail to address the real issues that face our schools,” Hunhoff says.

“The public has voiced its concerns with HB 1234,” says Senate Democratic Leader Jason Frerichs. “It’s time we slow down, get rid of the controversial elements of this education agenda, and get back to our job of investing in education.”

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