We suspect state lawmakers are patting themselves on the back, imagining they achieved a victory for education.
Yes! They beat back the governor's 10 percent budget cut and brought the drop in state aid down to an as-yet-unknown figure, but widely anticipated somewhere in the vicinity of 6.6 percent.
Spare us the premature and undeserved celebration. Just because 6.6 percent is less than 10 doesn't make it good or worthy of our applause and appreciation.
Picking through the budget rhetoric and political posturing, we can't help but think there was a less destructive way to resolve the state's structural deficit. While the governor and his minions cry poverty, other lawmakers claim funding sources exist that remain untapped.
According to Sen. Jim Hundstad, Democrats and several moderate Republicans have offered alternative plans, all of which have been tossed aside and deemed unworkable, without any in-depth consideration or willingness to work together.
Rep. Spence Hawley noted yesterday that South Dakota schools never received last year's federal stimulus money intended for education. Our schools really could have used that $26 million.
House Minority Leader Rep. Bernie Hunhoff pointed today to the state's trust funds, which he says have gained $17 million in the last month alone: "We've bankrolled some $800 million. Democrats here are looking for bi-partisan support to use $36 million from the Education Enhancement Trust fund for schools and $15 million from the Health Care Trust Fund for Medicaid. It's our last gasp in this too-long drama."
No kidding. We're all for being thrifty and watchful of the dollars we spend, but the constant nickel and dime-ing of education is shamelessly hypocritical — particularly when the leaders of this state get elected on platforms that promise to prepare our students for the future and work to keep young people in South Dakota.
How can we not see the wisdom in giving our kids educational advantages and opportunities to broaden their horizons? Every economic indicator points to an increasingly competitive and global society, where the highest demand is for skilled and educated workers.
Is striving for mediocrity the message we want to send? Be the best you can almost be?
South Dakota can and should be better than that.