Supporters of the referred school opt-out have taken to the web. Support Our Schools RC urges Rapid City school district voters to vote yes on June 2 for the six-million-dollar, five-year tax levy that the Rapid City school board approved in March. Their homepage banner offers five main reasons to vote Yes:
For the Kids: Our kids deserve the best education we can give them. Drastic multi-million dollar cuts in state aid to Rapid City have forced major cutbacks. The result is that we cannot provide the same quality of education for our kids that we did just a few years ago [SupportOurSchoolsRC.com, downloaded 2015.04.25].
See also my Thursday post, which reminds us that, far from “recovering” from the 2011 budget cuts, our schools have been sandbagged with a deficient state funding formula that leaves us five years behind where we would have been if we’d followed the law.
Teacher Pay: We are losing good teachers to neighboring states. A teacher can make 45% more in Wyoming, 22% more in Nebraska, and 43% more in Minnesota. We simply can’t keep our schools strong without the ability to retain and attract good teachers [SOS-RC].
SOS-RC may be looking at different stats from mine. The National Education Association’s March 2015 report shows that, compared to South Dakota, the average teacher salary is 24% higher in Nebraska, 37% higher in Minnesota, and 41% higher in Wyoming. But the point stands: Rapid City and everyone else in South Dakota struggles to recruit teachers with regionally uncompetitive wages.
Local Solution—Money Spent Here Stays Here: Money generated by the opt-out will stay in the local economy. Rapid City gets clobbered by the way the state calculates state aid to schools, which has aggravated the problem. Fortunately, every penny of the opt-out will be spent on local schools [SOS-RC].
The mention of flaws in the state formula is an interesting pitch for the anti-Pierre vote. But I have a feeling that the Rapid City voters who are sufficiently educated on the state’s K-12 funding formula are already in the opt-out camp, while the more general assortment of Rapid Citians who hate state government are likely to lean toward the anti-tax and (dare I suggest?) anti-public education crowd that helped refer this opt-out to a vote.
Economic Development: A strong, local, high wage economy starts with our education system. Attracting, creating, and keeping a well-educated workforce is the ket to local prosperity. We can build a strong foundation for economic success and shared prosperity by investing in education [SOS-RC].
Remember: this point isn’t just about educating good little welders and philosophers. This point is about saying to those families and businesses thinking about moving to Rapid, “Yes, we’ve got the Black Hills, I-90, Main Street Square, and Dinosaur Park. But we’re also a progressive town that funds our public schools adequately.” On another SOS-RC page, self-proclaimed big-government opponent Leigh Michelle Shaw puts the argument this way:
Lastly, this is the big one for citizens who don’t currently have students enrolled in the district, a failing education system affects local economy. A failing school district is not attractive to new families, which takes potential consumers out of our economy. Residents who may have wanted to run and operate businesses in the area may stay away. Producing an uneducated work force will only hurt our local economy in the long run [Leigh Michelle Shaw, “Before Signing the Petition…,” SOS-RC, downloaded 2015.04.25].
Ah! I could be wrong about SOS-RC’s appeal to those anti-government, anti-tax folks!
And SOS-RC’s fifth and final reason for voting yes:
The Time Is Now: Without the opt-out, the situation will go from bad to catastrophic. If approved, homeowners will pay an extra $6/month per $100,000 of property valuation. We can afford this and we can put our schools on more stable fotting. Nearly hald the schools in our state have already taken this positive step [SOS-RC].
I know we like to stay positive, but if you’re going to launch a word like catastrophic, let’s paint that catastrophe for the alarmed readers. It’s pretty simple: SOS-RC’s “Why Opt Out?” makes clear that if the opt-out fails, Rapid City schools will have to respond with more staff and teacher cuts, meaning even fewer smart, caring adults available to help their kids. Do you need more catastrophe than that?
I’ll be watching for the counter-websites and arguments from the opt-out opponents. Stay tuned, and let’s see if the school opt-out debate affects or drowns out the hotly contested mayoral campaign in Rapid City.