What will the Legislature do with Governor’s school funding proposal?

AT ISSUE: Governor Daugaard’s proposal for extra funding for South Dakota’s public schools is disturbing to some, especially to the teachers in these schools. His idea of terminating tenure is causing a lot of smoke as well. Still, outside the teaching ranks his funding ideas seem to be getting a favorable response from the public. Which side will the Legislature be on?

WHEN GOVERNOR Daugaard first made his proposal to help with funding our public schools in his state of the state address to the Legislature it was met with mixed emotions across the state.

In a nutshell he proposed:

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To give math and science teachers $3,500 bonuses every year, which would start in 2013-14.

The state also would give $5,000 bonuses every year to the best 20 percent of all teachers in each school district, starting in 2014-15.

In determining who the best 20 percent would be, a new teacher evaluation system would be created and mandated.

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Scoring for this new evaluation system would include half from students’ growth on test scores and the other half would come from supervisors’ observations.

And teacher tenure would be phased out by not awarding it to any teacher who doesn’t have it by July 1.

PERHAPS MIXED emotions isn’t the best way to describe how the Governor’s proposal was received. The public generally accepted his plan, but with some reservations. Teachers, generally, opposed it as unworkable. I was told this includes the South Dakota Education Association that got on the opposition bandwagon almost immediately.

The public’s reservations included the Governor’s proposal was too general. Not enough detail. For example, in picking the best 20 percent of a district’s teachers, what supervisors’ would be used to make that determination. Would that include the superintendent, school board members, the principal?

Regarding the bonuses, can the state afford them year after year? Can one Legislature obligate future Legislatures to these bonuses? “The devil is in the details.”

Also, we heard that the proposed annual $3,500 bonus for math and science teachers wasn’t enough money to entice out-of-state teachers to come to a South Dakota school district. They, more than likely, would earn more (salary + bonus) in schools outside our state.

It was also an unknown whether or not a college student majoring in either math or a science would be worth a hoot to earn any kind of a bonus.

AND THEN THAT word “tenure” surfaced in Governor Daugaard’s education plan. Or should I say teacher tenure phase out. Daugaard isn’t the first governor to propose it. It has been suggested time and again over the years, but just doesn’t go anywhere.

Still, what other profession offers tenure? Right now I can’t think of a one. Journalists certainly don’t have it. We were also told by a former school board member that it takes at least three years to get rid of a tenured teacher, no matter how bad he or she might be in the classroom. So, the question evolves around “what about the children in that teacher’s classroom?”

We must never forget about the children. After all, the Governor’s proposal is all about the children.

MY PREDICTION is that the Legislators will be sweating a lot over the Governor’s proposals and what comes out may not be exactly what Daugaard wants. At the same time it may take more than one legislative session to put even fragments of his education plan into law. Legislators can’t just let his proposal slide because of politics. The Governor is very serious about the future education of our children.

The bottom line comes from a graph the Governor presented during his state of the state address. Basically, the graph showed the students’ “achievement levels are pretty flat.” In fact, they have flat-lined over the past several years.

“I think education is doing a pretty good job in South Dakota by many measures,” Daugaard said. “The state steadily scores above average in national test results, in the percentage of students who graduate and in the percentage of students who go on to post secondary schooling.”

But as the Governor also pointed out, the state’s investment per student has grown to $9,000 per year from $4,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars during the past 40 years. That is not a big bang for the state’s buck.

OR, AS THE GOVERNOR put it, “the way to improve education in the state and jump start 40 years of flat achievement is to focus on classroom outcomes and the teachers who largely determine them.”

Well put….


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Gordon Garnos was long-time editor of the Watertown Public Opinion, retiring after 39 years with that newspaper. Garnos, a lifelong resident of South Dakota except for his military service in the U.S. Air Force, was born and raised in Presho.
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