Senate Education committee unanimously endorsed an amended SB 63
Thursday, paving the way for the state to make its application for federal Race
to the Top funds.
Lawmakers stripped the provisions to allow local school boards to apply for
charter schools, leaving only the portions that allow the State Board of
Education to charter a single pilot school. As drafted, the state's chartering
authority is conditional upon receiving the Race to the Top grant.
Education Secretary Tom Oster introduced the legislation, providing a brief
overview of the state's plans to develop a residential secondary school
offering instruction in grades 9-12 and two years of college. The school -
which will focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics
instruction - would give enrollment preference to American Indian students, but
would be open to all students.
The secretary told lawmakers that the state has a economic and moral imperative
to improve educational outcomes for South
Dakota's American Indian students, who have
historically not performed as well on state assessments and are less likely to
graduate from high school or college.
Keith Moore, chief diversity officer for the University of South Dakota,
and Stacy Phelps, a member of the State Board of Education and Indian education
pioneer, joined Oster in pitching the legislation.
"It's going to be a school of hope, a school of promise," said Keith
Moore, the state's former Indian Education director, after assuring lawmakers
that the non-traditional residential school would not conjure up images of
boarding schools that have strained relationships with the state's tribal
Phelps said the school would be based on the successes of South Dakota’s GEAR UP initiative, a state
Indian education initiative that has proven to improve high school graduation
rates and dramatically improved the number of American Indian students who have
were impressed by the application and gave it their full support.
Gray, R-Pierre, briefly summed up his endorsement of the legislation.
could be the most significant thing we do this session,” he said.