“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, March 6, 2011

Leaders absent when we need them most

As lawmakers head back to Pierre for the final week of the session, we find little reason for optimism that anything of substance will be accomplished despite assurances otherwise.
Gov. Daugaard, fresh off a gathering with his brethren, reportedly is feeling refreshed and emboldened because South Dakota is not in as dire straits as other states and his draconian 10 percent across-the-board cut will be our salvation regardless of the long term consequences for education.
Hard to reconcile that this is the same man who campaigned — with a straight face — on a commitment to education; the same man who is now massaging the data to claim that his 10 percent cut is really only a 5.4 percent cut.
What the governor fails to divulge is that he adds into the equation money districts cannot spend on educating children. He does this to reach the $8,800 per child cost rather than the actual $4,800.
Even though funding for capital outlay, capital projects, pensions, food service and special education DO NOT go into the general fund and CANNOT be used to pay salaries and other costs associated with the school day, Daugaard lumps the money together and says the cuts are not as drastic as educators insist.
Such disregard for the truth is shocking, particularly when the tales of devastation are lined up like semis waiting for I29 to open after a blizzard.
Even more incredulous is the stunning and shameless hypocrisy demonstrated by legislators every step of the way when it comes to the children of South Dakota. Session after session, our lawmakers boldly jump on the fetus bandwagon. Fine, they want to protect the rights of the unborn.
We are not going to jump into the abortion fray, but we can question the concern and care for a child once he or she is born. Tough luck. We got you into the world, now you are on your own.
We have no money for education, but regardless of claims to the contrary, taxpayer dollars will be spent to defend the legitimacy of HB1217, the bill that would mandate women ‘counsel’ with non-medical, ideological agencies before terminating a pregnancy.
We can strip our schools of academic excellence and co-curricular activities that help develop our children into well-rounded, successful citizens, but God forbid we ban texting while driving.
What’s the defense? Despite state after state protecting its citizenry from ill-conceived idiocy, our lawmakers claim that the legislation would be too messy, too complicated, too whatever to enforce.
We can’t even see our way clear to protecting our children from dangerous chemicals in plastic without ridiculous justification, but we can hold the line when it comes to education.
We know there is a financial problem in South Dakota that demands attention. All condescending lectures aside, we get that the state budget has its limits and we do understand structural deficits.
But remember, it’s not as if these problems suddenly hit overnight; they have been a long time coming — particularly in the field of education funding. We have yet to see a legislative session pass where education funding was NOT at issue. And yet, where have our lawmakers been? Absent and long overdue.
Instead of lining up rank and file behind the governor and his shortsighted 'plan,' our lawmakers should break from the mindset that is Pierre and come up with legitimate, long-term, viable, responsible solutions. Instead of whining about the angry emails and ruling out every option offered their way, they need to get to work.
If thoughtful and reasonable discussion can happen on facebook, why not in the chambers of the South Dakota Legislature.

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