The laptop scuffle
Posted Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Argus Leader reporter Terry Woster has legislative reaction to Gov. Mike Round's expansion of the Classroom Connections lap top program.
Open Forum said earlier that we had a feeling some legislators wouldn't be too happy with continuation of a program that they didn't fund, and the Argus brings us comment from a collection of lawmakers from both sides of the isle.
From the Argus:
"The Legislature again said it was not a priority with us," said Sen. Brock Greenfield, R-Clark. "We spoke with a voluminous voice."
... and ...
"The numbers don't add up, and it's just one more case of the bureaucrats misleading the Appropriations Committee," said Sen. Jerry Apa, R-Lead. "Some government agencies couldn't spell 'truth' if you spotted them the 'ruth.' "
... and ...
Sen. Jean Hunhoff, R-Yankton, said the governor has the authority to spend private money sometimes, but she is troubled by the incident.
"I am not comfortable with this," said Hunhoff, vice chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. "There was no communication after session. There should have been communication when they found they had funds remaining. ... A heads-up would have been nice."
Hunhoff and Sen. Julie Bartling, D-Burke, compared the issue to the ethanol tax.
"I support the laptops, but as with the ethanol tax fight, the Legislature said one thing, and the governor went ahead and did something else," Bartling said. "It's time we quit shrugging these things off."
Senate Democratic leader Scott Heidepriem of Sioux Falls said the laptop issue, the ethanol tax debate and a previous conflict over money for the Highway Patrol erode the ability of the Legislature and governor to work together.
"It seems like he's determined to ignore an entire branch of government," Heidepriem said. "It's not too late to put this relationship back together for the remainder of his term, and I hope we can do that. I'm willing to work toward that, but we really need to see a sign of good faith on his part."
And, when asked why the program continued despite the legislature not funding the expansion, Gov. Rounds provided justification.
"The message we got from the Legislature was, 'We approve of the concept, but we don't fully have the dollars for it. As long as we're not transferring dollars from the state-aid formula, we don't have an objection.' The House supported us on that. There were just some in the Senate who did not."
Attach price tag to mandates
Posted Monday, May 19, 2008
Tightening budgets combined with expanding state and federal mandates are forcing local school board members to devote resources away from local priorities, three members of the Rapid City Board of Education told the South Dakota State Board of Education today.
In a letter to board president Kelly Duncan, which was hand-delivered Monday, school board members asked the state board to adopt a fiscal impact policy that would direct the Secretary of Education to outline any costs to comply with new policies, mandates or standards.
The policy would help educate the public on the costs of complying with state mandates, Rapid City Board of Education members said.
Rapid City Area Schools recently cut $2.3 million from their operating budget - a move that forced board members to choose compliance with mandates over music and library programs.
Read the Rapid City Journal coverage here.
Open Forum thinks the Rapid City Board of Education is on to something.
While it's true that each school district can calculate its own costs to comply with state and federal mandates, Open Forum thinks the state board should also consider costs as it weighs whether to implement further regulation on local districts.
Will a policy be drafted? Will the idea be decried as impossible? Time will tell. For now, Open Forum thinks it's a practical, common sense idea that could - at the very least - generate some discussion about how much budgetary authority our local school boards have.
For inquiring minds, here's the full text of the letter, which was co-authored by Eric Abrahamson (former Lieutenant Governor Candidate, current House candidate), Sheryl Kirkeby (current Board President and spouse to current State Representative Mark Kirkeby) and Wes Storm (member of the ASBSD Board of Directors).
May 19, 2008Ms. Kelly DuncanPresidentSouth Dakota Board of Education700 Governors DrivePierre, SD 57501
Dear Ms. Duncan:
State and federal mandates, including the federal No Child Left Behind Act, have an enormous financial impact on local school districts. Threatened with the loss of state or federal funding, accreditation, or other sanctions, districts devote hundreds of hours of staff and administrative time to developing plans, providing training and implementing programs to meet these mandates, standards and required tests. In South Dakota alone these mandates cost local school districts millions of dollars.
Taxpayers and legislators in South Dakota deserve to know how much these mandates are costing them. We recognize that the State Board of Education is not responsible for mandates, standards and tests required by the federal government, but the Board and the Department of Education can help educate citizens, school board members, and legislators regarding the costs of these policies and mandates.
Therefore, we respectfully request that the South Dakota Board of Education adopt a fiscal impact policy that will require the Secretary of Education to provide the Board and the public with an estimate of what it will cost local school districts to comply with each new policy, mandate or standard proposed to the Board for adoption. This simple step will help all of us gain a better understanding of the investments we are making in the future of our children.
Scaled-back laptop initiative presses forward
Posted Thursday, May 15, 2008
South Dakota's laptop initiative lives on, according to a press release from the South Dakota Department of Education.
From the release:
"On the national front, the question surrounding learning with laptops is not if it will happen, it's when it will happen," said Gov. Mike Rounds. "Here in South Dakota, the K-12 laptop initiative will help to prepare students for a world in which access to information and technology is absolutely critical to economic health."
The scaled-back program for 2008-09 is expected to cost the state $770,000. Funding for the full program, estimated at $2.9 million, was cut during the 2008 legislative session. Expenses for adding the 15 new schools will be paid using Citibank funds.
Open Forum is all aboard the laptop initiative. We think putting computers in the hands of high schoolers is a good idea - whether the state helps out with the effort, or a local school board decides to enter the program independent of state support.
When the dust settles, the announcement is good news for South Dakota students. But the dust likely hasn't settled yet.
The announcement could stir another round of debate surrounding whether Gov. Rounds is defying the intent of the legislative body - the branch of government that decided to cut funding for the program last year.
The laptop initiative earned plenty of attention in 2006, when Gov. Rounds announced the Classroom Connections program along with his 2010 Education Initiative. That year, Gov. Rounds tried to secure funds for every high school in the state to participate. With legislative pushback, the program was quickly scaled back to a one-year pilot program.
In 2007, laptop funding was part of Gov. Rounds recommended budget. Legislators didn't turn the program away that year, though - most likely because the request only used private funds.
This past session, though, Gov. Rounds asked for nearly $3 million in state funds to fund the third year of the program. Tucked away as a line item in an amendment to the current year's budget - as opposed to being grouped in with the FY 09 budget and debated on its own merits - the laptop funds didn't survive.
Instead, legislators opted to use $3 million to provide an additional half-percent to the per-student allocation, with the hopes of further boosting teacher salaries.
Minnesotans: Save money, send your students to South Dakota!
Posted Wednesday, May 14, 2008
There's good news and bad news coming out of Lake Benton, Minnesota.
On the positive side, Lake Benton Public Schools will send high school students to South Dakota's own Elkton School District next year. Lake Benton's junior and senior high school building was condemned and voters rejected a bond issues, leaving the district to look for other options.
The bad news? That the same article points out that the state of Minnesota saves $2,800 each time they send a student to South Dakota.
From the MinnPost:
Interestingly, with students' trek across the border, the Lake Benton district will end up making money on the deal, after paying the South Dakota educators tuition for each student, says Cornelius Smit, Lake Benton's interim superintendent.
"We still get the same funding formula per student and we pay the South Dakota tuition rate," Smit said. Turns out it's cheaper to attend school in the sister state because salaries and such are less expensive, Smit said.
Local and state taxes deliver about $8,000 in education funding per secondary student, while tuition at the Elkton school is only $5,250 per student.
That means nearly $2,800 per pupil funding will be available to supplement the cost of providing a good Minnesota education to Lake Benton's kindergarten through sixth-grade students.
Maybe districts bordering Minnesota should invest in some billboards. They could say: "35% off all educations."
We kid, we kid.