Who would have guessed?
Posted Thursday, October 25, 2007
Two members of the state board of education have apparently given sworn statements that the state is not adequately funding K-12 education, according to the Mitchell Daily Republic.
Read the story in the Mitchell Daily Republic (subscription may be required). An expert from Ross Dolan's story:
Donald Kirkegaard, of Britton, and Glenna Fouberg, Aberdeen, both recently took part in depositions, under way in a lawsuit against the state, brought forth by parents of students and backed by many South Dakota schools.
Scott Abdallah, Sioux Falls attorney for the plaintiffs, on Wednesday said he was surprised members of the state Board of Education would make such comments.
"It shocked us that they were willing to make those admissions," Abdallah said.
But Deputy Attorney General Roxanne Giedd, lead attorney for the state on the funding case, said "the case is a long way from trial and until we get there, there's no telling where the evidence is going to lead us."
Statements reportedly made by Kirkegaard and Fouberg came during lawsuit depositions. Kirekegaard, a member of the South Dakota State Board of Education and a superintendent for the Britton-Hecla school district, had this to say, according to the Daily Republic:
In an Oct. 12 deposition, Kirkegaard, the state board's representative for early childhood issues, as well as superintendent of the Britton-Hecla School District, said South Dakota is 51st in the nation for teacher pay, that "teacher salaries are a problem" and that the state "needs to fund pre-kindergarten education" because it is "critical to the success of many of our students."
Abdallah said South Dakota is one of 10 states that does not fund a pre-k program.
When one particular small school district in South Dakota was given as an example, Kirkegaard said he would not send his own children to that district because it was, in his opinion "not providing a quality education at this point in time."
There you have it. Interesting news, certainly. Surprising news? Open Forum will let you be the judge of that.
Business community continuing education focus
Posted Wednesday, October 17, 2007
A growing partnership between state business leaders and education officials is aimed at providing more education funding, the Argus Leader reports.
Spurred by Sioux Falls' efforts to strengthen relationships at the local level, business leaders from across South Dakota made their way to Pierre last year to testify for K-12 funding increases (read Open Forum's coverage from last legislative session).
As the Argus Leader reports, the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and Industry is positioning support increased funding again this year.
Dean Buckneberg of Eide Bailly, the chamber's new chairman, said building educational opportunities for young people is a main priority for the group this year. The chamber in the 2007 Legislature pushed for funding for early childhood education. A pilot program in Sioux Falls operated as a partnership between the chamber, the United Way and the Sioux Falls School District will start soon.
"As a group, we'll be supportive of any legislation that would increase funding for education," Buckneberg said.
Last year, the state chamber motivated business leaders from all corners of the state - Aberdeen, Yankton and Rapid City - to begin conversations about education as a way to spur economic development. Looks like that discussion is going to continue.
Lead-Deadwood continues pandemic planning
Posted Sunday, October 14, 2007
The Lead-Deadwood School District will continue to prepare for pandemic flu, the Lawrence County Journal reports. The safety planning will be one of several items up for discussion as the board and administration discuss long-range planning for the district.
From the Lawrence County Journal:
A pandemic plan would incorporate much of emergency preparedness measures developed by the Lawrence and Butte County Emergency Management Offices, but [Superintendnet Dan] Leikvold told board members that parts of the district plan would need to be specific to schools and not the public in general.
Issues that need to be addressed include relocation of students and staff if school buildings are used as hospitals or emergency facilities, payroll and leave issues if staff are confined to their homes for a number of weeks in a major emergency, and transition back into buildings following a epidemic emergency.
"The big question is, how do we educate kids if citizens are not allowed out of their homes for a number of weeks. Hopefully we'll never have to use it, but we have to have a plan," said Leikvold.
Superintendent Leikvold sums it up perfectly - sometimes schools have to plan for events they hope to never encounter.
School district efforts to provide a safe learning environment often go unnoticed, but this kind of planning is increasingly important in our modern times.
Mentors paying off in Garretson
Posted Sunday, October 14, 2007
A mentoring program for first year teachers is easing the transition for new educators, the Garretson Weekly reports. The Garretson School Board heard an update about the new initiative at a recent board meeting.
From the Garretson Weekly:
Garretson Elementary Principal Karn Barth said the mentor program offers a continuity of good teaching strategies and helps first year teachers with initial hurdles in the teaching profession.
"A mentor is someone to bounce ideas off of," she said. "For the children, teachers set the atmosphere of the classroom. If teachers are relaxed, students feel more relaxed and they perform better."
Under the mentor program, first-year teachers will receive support during the first three years of their professional career.
The initiative is the home town version of a statewide focus (see Gov. Rounds' 2010E) to improve teacher retention in South Dakota. Kudos are in order - both to the Garretson School District and to state officials - for putting a greater emphasis on helping new teachers get settled in the classroom.
Illinois: Moment of silence to begin each day
Posted Friday, October 12, 2007
All public schools in Illinois have to observe a moment of silence to begin each day, according to the Springfield Journal Register. (H/T to ECS) Illinois lawmakers overrode Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s veto of the Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act despite the fact that state law already permitted schools to observe a daily moment of silence. The new law makes the quiet time mandatory. From SJ-R.com:
"The law in Illinois today already allows teachers and students the opportunity to take a moment for silent thought or prayer, if they chose to," he wrote. "I believe this is the right balance between the principles echoed in our constitution, and our deeply held desire to practice our faith."
But supporters of the legislation said it does not force students to pray.
"We are bombarding them with information, with music, with all the things they're going to need later on, but do they ever have a moment of silence?" asked Rep. Monique Davis, D-Chicago.
Lawmakers opposed to the legislation contended it is bad public policy on several fronts. Calling the bill an "ambiguous, unenforceable, unpunishable, unproductive piece of legislation," Sen. John Fritchey, D-Chicago, urged his colleagues to uphold the governor's veto.
The Chicago Tribune says the move thrust Illinois into the national debate on school prayer. Open Forum thinks this issue is a significantly less touchy than prayer in school, but we’re scratching our heads at the mandate.
The current law allows school communities an option and offers the necessary legal protection. One would think that’s enough. But, obviously Illinois is into mandates and passing additional laws. And now, a moment of silence.
Efforts afoot to repeal Maine consolidation law
Posted Wednesday, October 10, 2007
State lawmakers in Maine will have at least 60 chances to revisit the sweeping consolidation plan enacted last year, according to the Boston Globe.
On Wednesday, as a list of bill requests began to circulate at the State House, one legislative staff count put the number at about 80 while a preliminary tally by the Baldacci administration reached 69.
An Associated Press list topped 60. In some cases the direct tie between a title and the school consolidation law could only be surmised.
Many proposed bill titles, however, left no doubt about the intention of the sponsor's intent.
"An Act to Repeal the School Administrative Units Reorganization Law," not the only one of its kind, was put forth by Senate Minority Leader Carol Weston, R-Montville, and entered as Legislative Request 2937.
The goal of the consolidation plan, championed by Gov. John Baldacci after an even more sweeping blueprint he originally put forth was derailed, is to create a maximum of 80 school units of at least 2,500 students in most instances.
Currently, by the administration's count, Maine has 290 school districts and 152 superintendents, some of whom serve multiple districts.
Gov. Baldacci, a member of the Democratic Party, will oppose any efforts to undo the law passed last session, which passed with broad support. But lawmakers are in the second year of two-year terms, and local opinions of the reorganization plan may have more impact in an election year. Stay tuned.
While the Maine forced consolidation is obviously on a much larger scale, it still make Open Forum wonder whether South Dakota's mandated consolidation program will be revisited. The bill passed narrowly in both chambers despite the fact that forced consolidation law was packaged with a host of mostly positive reforms. Stay tuned.
South Dakota's Blue Ribbon School
Posted Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Congratulations are in order to the Agar-Blunt-Onida school district's school board, administration, teachers, students and community.
Blunt Elementary was named a Blue Ribbon school by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). It's the only school in South Dakota to be awarded the distinction, and part of a group of 287 public and private schools to be recognized by the federal government.
According to an ED news release, "The No Child Left Behind-Blue Ribbon Schools award, one of the most prestigious education awards in the country, distinguishes and honors schools for helping students achieve at very high levels and for making significant progress in closing the achievement gap."
We'll vouch for that
Posted Thursday, October 4, 2007
A new study by the Economic Policy Institute shows that a voucher program in Milwaukee did not improve student achievement in Wisconsin's largest school system.
Read more about the study in the Salt Lake Tribune. Utah's largest paper is examining both sides of the voucher debate after public school advocates referred a newly enacted voucher law to a statewide vote.
From the Salt Lake Tribune:
Competition from a long-running voucher program in Milwaukee has not consistently improved that city's public schools, according to an Economic Policy Institute study released today.
"Schools are not like the marketplace: Competition doesn't automatically make things better," study co-author and Stanford University professor Martin Carnoy said in a statement. "The evidence does not support advocates' claims that voucher schools raise academic achievement."
It's a finding that's sure to fuel Utah's voucher debate. Voucher opponents, both in Utah and Milwaukee, said they're not surprised by the study's findings. Voucher supporters say the programs are more about helping students than improving public schools.
"Vouchers have never created any harm," said Leah Barker, spokeswoman for the Utah pro-voucher group Parents for Choice in Education. "What our advocacy revolves around is really giving parents the opportunity to choose a good education."
Open Forum is glad to see an expanding body of research exploring vouchers (as well as other programs that allow public funds to go to private entities).
We have a slight problem with the idea that vouchers don't harm public schools, though. They do shift resources away from schools, and there aren't many - if any - public schools that have the resources to do what public schools are being asked to do.
The trend as of late has been to treat public schools like businesses. There's been little evidence to support how private sector models are applied to public services, and there's not much convincing evidence to suggest that business-like approaches to public schools positively impacts student achievement.
In South Dakota, parents have a choice to enroll their students in any of our high-quality public schools. Our open enrollment law does two things: gives parents a choice; and ensures public funds are spent with public accountability.