“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

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Pierre, we have a problem

Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Clearly, this is where we are at in South Dakota.
We can argue all we want about whether 1) we should tack an extra penny to the sales tax, 2) the state is investing enough on education or 3) the state and school districts should spend down their reserves. We can come up with one time funding and slide through this year or whack 10 percent from our budgets.
None of this will bring desperately needed and lasting change to education funding in South Dakota.
And, if that is not depressing enough, try googling education funding or education funding cuts or South Dakota funding of education. Read through the results and check out statistics. The surprising revelation is that we have not hit rock bottom sooner.
But, this is what happens when the leadership stance is a stagnant, status quo combination of business-as-usual and if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it. Rather than take a proactive approach, South Dakota has done nothing more than sit back and wait for bad times.
Lawmakers, when pressed on education funding cuts, rattle off how much of the budget is consumed by education — they like to bundle education and social services to say 85 cents of every dollar. But, to put our education funding in perspective, South Dakota has one of the lowest percentages in the country of state investment and one of the highest percentages of federal investment. (For a more detailed look at the facts and figures, check out this 2007 report from the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan tax research group based in Washington, D.C.)
But, seriously, this does nothing more than give us the sensation of beating our collective head against the wall. So, what to do and where to go with education funding?
Gov. Dennis Daugaard, rather than offer any novel ideas or true reform, has gone with the unimaginative, austere approach of issuing a mandate to cut 10 percent, any repercussions be damned. Our lawmakers are caught in the middle with an angry electorate that wants services, but doesn't want to pay for them. (And, this is not just South Dakota. Check out the results from this national survey. We fit right in.)
There are some noble efforts to stave off catastrophe, although we find it difficult to gauge the merits. For example, according to a KDLT report, SB 126, would maintain the per student allocation at current levels by taking $20 million in interest from the Education Enhancement Trust Fund and putting it into an Education Stabilization fund. In return, schools would also put $20 million into the Education Stabilization fund between FY12 and FY13 and would give up their ability to opt-out.
The Rapid City Journal reported on a plan, which doesn't seem to have much traction, for a special election to allow us to approve or reject a sales tax increase.
Meanwhile, in our googling around on the internet, we happened upon this commentary from October. While we can't vouch for the validity of the facts and figures offered, we do wonder exactly what has been going on in Pierre and why a fiscal crisis of such monumental proportions has failed to shift the paradigm?
This much we do know: The system is broken and needs fixing. Money is tight, if not non-existent. People do not want to pay for repairs.
And, if we do not fund education and provide our children with quality academics and a well-rounded experience in the arts and athletics, we will pay dearly in our lifetime and beyond.
We elect our lawmakers and place them in office because they tell us they want the job; that they have the skills needed to lead us. So, don't come back when the going gets tough and ask us what we want them to do or how we want them to fix this, or if we're willing to impose a tax on ourselves.
If our leaders deem education important, if they think education is vital to our economy and our children's future, then they ought to drop the politics, get together and figure a responsible way out. Stand up before the people of South Dakota and lead us to a better place.


  1. As much as I share the concern and almost outrage of a proposed flat cut of 10% and the additional proposal of adding another penny to an already regressive sales tax which hits the poorest families even harder... I do believe in our citizen government and I believe that each of us bears the burden of striving for a solution. We cannot sit back with our righteous indignation and point fingers at elected individuals and not offer suggestions of alternatives to the proposals they are considering. I believe that we need to have a conversation that includes all tax breaks which are currently offered to farmers and businesses in addition to the possibility of adding taxes to the residents of our state. I am fully in agreement that the flat cut to education is unacceptable and works in direct opposition to moving our state forward... I am, however, ready to hear of alternative funding models being proposed by individuals who do not like the suggested cuts. This is a democracy, representative in nature... and I need to be active in my proposal of how I wish to be governed, not simply in opposition to how others are proposing it happen.

    My family is part of the group with potential to be deeply affected by the proposed cuts and I am still hoping to hear my friends in education suggesting funding models which they can support. If there is fact in the reputed $240M in revenue which is not paid by farmers on ag related purchases... perhaps this should be revisited. Each time I purchase grain for my horses and chickens, I am asked if I'm tax exempt... no, I am not. Does every small business in SD get to be tax exempt from sales tax? These are questions I believe should be asked as unpopular as they may be.

    I do hope that others will voice their concerns but mostly, I hope that others will propose funding models which can be discussed!

  2. I'm no longer a farmer. I was.

    Farmer's are exempt from paying sales taxes on equipment.

    I don't think it wise to suggest that schools get their way out of the trouble our legislators got them into by shifting the burden.

    If you were purchasing products for resale, those products would be exempt. (I have been out of agriculture for some time, so I honestly don't know if feed stocks for livestock are tax exempt.)

  3. I was inaccurate when I listed $240M in Ag tax exemptions. Here is what I found from the Rapid City Journal from an article posted Feb 10, 2011 entitled, "Daugaard open to eliminating some tax exemptions":
    Cost of some sales tax exemptions to the state treasury
    $120 million: Medical services and equipment
    $100 million: Governments, tribes, schools
    $83 million: Livestock sales
    $48 million: Home and apartment rent
    $25 million: Bulk fertilizer purchases
    $15 million: Livestock feed
    $10 million: Agricultural warehousing
    $7 million: Advertising services
    $2 million: Services provided by membership organizations

  4. As much as we might appreciate how the process is supposed to work, it's not working. By calling on lawmakers to offer up solutions, we are not advocating that people sit back and do nothing.
    The sad thing about this situation is that education is merely a casualty in the bitter, divisive political turmoil that has gripped this country.
    There is no solution out there at this moment. People do need to participate. Clearly, that element is lacking in the equation. But people also need leadership and direction. Don’t just stand before us empty-handed and say, tell us what to do.
    Until our leaders step up and say unequivocally that education is a priority that must be funded; that sacrifices must be made — people will not rise to the challenge.
    And, how can they? Even our leaders are not rising to the challenge. There needs to be reasonable, responsible, conscientious discussion and debate among people who have the training and the expertise.
    We need economists and educators to look at restructuring revenue models and disbursement formulas. We need bold lawmakers who pledge to do what is right and best rather than politically expedient.
    Until that happens, it is what it is. No outcry from the public, no petitions for a one-cent sales tax will change anything. The problem remains, the fingers point in blame, programming gets cut and the children suffer.

  5. I have been trying to speak out, like many others have and are doing....I have tried and continue to brainstorm options and continue to include these ideas to any and all who want change in this state. I am frustrated to see in front of me nothing happening. I feel like I am watching our legislators throw it all back in our faces... wanting us to come up with the changes, and wanting us to solve the problems. I will attend all of your coffee talks, and listen to your political lines, but, just remember that when our children's education suffers because your lack of ideas, you are the ones that should have done your job. These may seem like harsh words, but we all need some fire behind us to get our creative minds working. We as educators come up with creative ideas daily to make sure that our students succeed. We think out of the box to find success in our classrooms. We value the arts, we value expression and we work together to create a confident, healthy environment for young minds to learn.
    Is it too hard to ask them to do this, to simply make sure that the quality education of South Dakota continues? Our children deserve better. I will not stop fighting, and I will continue to think of ideas for those in Pierre. Wish they would do the same! Hopefully they are.