“Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be permanently maintained.”
—James A. Garfield, 20th President of the United States

Friday, February 25, 2011

Education funding is non-negotiable

The fundamental flaw in Gov. Daugaard's plan to solve South Dakota's budget woes by whacking a flat 10 percent off expenses is a foolish and shortsighted assumption that all expenses are alike. And, his stubborn clinging to the notion only suggests that he either has spent little time with a local school district budget or he doesn't care.
It is one thing to cut administrators in the governor's office or trim $100,000+ salaries by $10,000 or $15,000. The work will be done by others and people will sacrifice to get by with $90,000 a year. There is no challenge whatsoever in cutting phantom slots in a state budget that pads the numbers with extra positions.
Seriously. This is our state government at work. Check out the personal services budget that details budgeted FTE (or full time equivalent) slots vs. actual FTEs. From FY2006 to FY 2010, we budgeted for anywhere from 290 to 624 FTEs more than were actually there.
So, is this how Daugaard valiantly arrives at his 10 percent cuts? Where are the actual names of the 10 percenters who were eliminated from state government?
In comparison, take South Dakota school districts, where budgeting is an art form that blends legitimate accounting practices with a McGyver-like creativity. There is no cushion; there is no fat or phony FTEs. Every position, every program, every dollar is accounted for and well used.
You cut, you lose positions or programming. So, in effect, our kids lose. They lose contact time with a teacher and opportunities to pursue their passion and fulfill their potential. In other words, we are talking about lives lost — when one life lost is one life too many.
If that sounds overly dramatic or if the sentiment prevails that, gee, everyone has to cut, think about this: If Daugaard's 10 percent cut goes through, our school spending will not return to current levels for six to nine years. That is the bulk of a child's K-12 educational experience.
Should a child in Brookings be deprived of a quality and challenging curriculum, exposure to the arts and athletics, debate, improv, student council, FCCLA, and the many other wonderful options that exist? For those children who already have gone through our district, these were the experiences that opened their eyes and molded them, the opportunities that helped them grow and become who they are today.

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