Governor Dennis Daugaard has named the first thirteen members of his new Blue Ribbon Task Force on Teachers and Students (what’s our pronounceable acronym: BluRT-FTS?):
The Blue Ribbon task force will be co-chaired by Sen. Deb Soholt (R-Sioux Falls) and Rep. Jacqueline Sly (R-Rapid City). Sen. Soholt and Rep. Sly chair the Education Committees in their respective chambers.
In addition to Sen. Soholt and Rep. Sly, the initial appointees are:
- Sen. Corey Brown (R-Gettysburg)
- Sen. Troy Heinert (D-Mission)
- Sen. Billie Sutton (D-Burke)
- Sen. Craig Tieszen (R-Rapid City)
- Rep. Justin Cronin (R-Gettysburg)
- Rep. Paula Hawks (D-Hartford)
- Rep. Mark Mickelson (R-Sioux Falls)
- Rep. Steve Westra (R-Sioux Falls)
- Dr. Melody Schopp, Secretary of Education
- Tony Venhuizen, Gov. Daugaard’s chief of staff
- Jason Dilges, Commissioner of the Bureau of Finance and Management
[Office of Governor Dennis Daugaard, press release, 2015.03.18]
That’s just the beginning. After stakeholder meetings through May, Governor Daugaard will make the committee even bigger. The Governor says some stakeholders will want one meeting to “unload their opinions” but won’t “want to participate in the task force because it’s too much time commitment,” but he will appoint willing (but not willful?) teachers, parents, and school board members to meet from June through October to come up with legislative proposals.
The BluRT-FTS appointees don’t inspire confidence. Rep. Sly was a teacher, but she backed Governor Daugaard’s really bad (and voter-rejected) education reform package in 2012. Rep. Cronin prime-sponsored HB 1207, which would have reduced net K-12 funding $9 million, and Senate Bill 177, the youth minimum wage bill. Both bills show Rep. Cronin thinks kids are worth less. Senator Brown prime-sponsored no legislation this year, or in 2014, or 2013, or 2012, or 2011, to improve K-12 education. (In 2013, Senator Brown sponsored a bill to reduce funding for small schools. In 2012, he sponsored a stand-alone bill to repeal continuing contract protections for experienced teachers. In 2011, he sponsored one bill to repeal the statute forcing small schools to consolidate but sponsored another bill to further reduce school tax levies.) Rep. Mickelson thinks parents who consider climate change and evolution “fringe ideas” aren’t given enough hearing by public school boards.
Assuming he can get past that wall of Republican inattention and ill intention, Senator Sutton offers gentle suggestions for what the BluRT-FTS should talk about. The usually optimistic Senator Bernie Hunhoff (D-18/Yankton) tries to back-jinx the committee by predicting it will get bogged down in discussions of reserve funds and capital outlay, but he’s pretty sure the BluRT-FTS won’t deliver any results not already found in file boxes in Pierre from previous education task forces. Rep. Hunhoff says the problem is obvious: “the state has been shifting the cost onto taxpayers” and “the state’s not doing its share.”
Keep an eye out for BluRT-FTS stakeholder meetings near you. Unload your opinions, and tell the Governor you only need one meeting to come up with legislation: eliminate one eighth of our sales tax exemptions to fund $10,000 raises for every teacher.