Blue Ribbon Panel Takes More Tweets in Sioux Falls, Needs Deeper Discussion

The Governor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Teachers and Students drew good crowds in Sioux Falls yesterday. Patrick Anderson of that Sioux Falls paper reports over a hundred participants at the afternoon educators’ session; Rep. Fred Deutsch (R-4/Florence) counted “a much larger number.”

Anderson heard “corporate income tax,” “teacher pay,” and “consolidation” bubbling out of the conversations yesterday. Lennox English teacher and blogger Michael Larson rotated through tables and heard the following responses to the three questions offered by the panel:

[1] When you think of funding schools in your local community, what is important to you? …The rooms main concern could basically be summed up as the teacher shortage.  Also near the top included pay and incentives and treatment of teachers (respect for the profession).

[2] …what new approaches could be developed to achieve the issues from question one.  Increased financing was the biggest thing brought up.  Some ideas were an income tax, corporate tax, and making the lottery money dedicated back to education.  Also included were promotion of respect from Pierre for teachers, coming and watching teachers teach for a day, incentives, funding college funding for teachers, and other incentives.

[3] …advice to the Blue Ribbon panel as they go forward. Some of the suggestions included to treat educators as professionals, look for long term solutions instead of band-aid approaches, don’t back down and fight in Pierre, and my favorite, there is a lot of skepticism that anything will get done since this is the eleventh task force in seventeen years, so they need to prove they can accomplish something [Michael Larson, “Observations on Blue Ribbon Panel—Educator Edition,” Taking a Left Turn in South Dakota, 2015.06.16].

Larson reports that at least one more legislator is ignoring the Governor’s effort to shush legislators during these public conversations on K-12 education. Larson heard Rep. Joshua Klumb (R-20/Mount Vernon) encouraging civil war by promoting “his real belief that we should fund higher education less or not at all and use the money for K-12 education.”

The Blue Ribboneers continue to collect input from educators, businesspeople, and the general public on sticky notes, essentially a paper retro-version of Twitter. The Governor is not soliciting detailed research, informative anecdotes from professional and personal experience, or thoughtfully developed observations and recommendations. He is soliciting bullet points that fit in a space smaller than the palm of your hand.

Blue Ribbon co-chair Senator Deb Soholt (R-14/Sioux Falls) tells Anderson the sticky-note process allows  the panel “to hear everybody’s voice” and ensure that “everyone’s voice can be lifted off these tables and put onto that wall.” But whatever conversations take place among the many voices at each table, the Blue Ribboneers are getting one-second blips.

Larson doesn’t think this format provides the rich, informative conversation we need to get at the heart of the question of meaningful funding for K-12 education:

We ended with a lot of vague ideas of what is important (quality teachers and access to well-rounded education), but I don’t think that this gets to the heart of the question of “meaningful education.”  In the end all that seemed to be collected was a bunch of random statements that will be summarized as data and probably turned in one of those word clouds [Larson, 2016.06.16].

The sticky-note wall looks cool, and I don’t mind if the Blue Ribboneers continue using it at their remaining meetings (Yankton today, Watertown June 22, Aberdeen June 23). But the panel needs to provide the public with a forum for much more thorough, detailed, and ongoing discussion. The Blue Ribbon website includes a feedback form; the submissions to that form should be posted publicly, like the online archive of the comments flooding in to the state Board on Geographic Names on renaming Harney Peak to Hinhan Kaga. The Blue Ribboneers could go even further by creating a Facebook page where citizens could submit not only tweet-sized recommendations but longer posts on education funding, complete with links to research and data, with open comments below each post.

Sticky-note convos are fun, and they are better than the proverbial smoke-filled room. But meaningful public participation requires more than a word cloud. If we want to be able to hold the Legislature and Governor accountable for listening to the public and incorporating the best ideas offered into K-12 policy, we need to invite, publish, and archive richer public comment.

Of course, this call for deeper discussion assumes the entire task force process isn’t just a big distraction from our failure to act on the results of ten previous summer studies. Maybe we don’t need sticky-note walls or a wiki-conversation to tell us the obvious solution: pay South Dakota teacher $20,000 more.

11 Responses to Blue Ribbon Panel Takes More Tweets in Sioux Falls, Needs Deeper Discussion

  1. Roger Elgersma

    People get bored with blueribbon task forces since they are neither blue ribbon nor address the task nor have the force to want to do anything. Will the magic number be thirteen task forces? They are simply a waste of time since we all know they will do nothing other than satisfy the consciences of those who think they made you think they cared.

  2. Klumb for the most part was quiet and just listened. It wasn’t until he was drawn in to the conversation by some discussion by the table as to what defines the state’s constitutional obligation towards education. He did say that this issue is not clear, but prefers to try and look at what the founding fathers of the constitution would have been worried about at the time. It felt like that in his view, they were just worried about K-8 (now 12) education.

    They also said that July would be the time to analyze all the “data” surrounding the issue. I agree that we need to publish a true and rich depth of the different situations. The approach that needs to take place is one that recognizes that every district is a little different in their needs. The one universal concern that was being felt by the majority of people I spoke with was a lack of number of qualified teachers coming and then holding onto them.

    Thanks for sharing the information. I regret that I could not go to the public one or the business one. I think the issues of concern and the solutions would have changed since many of the people are possibly not as aware as the functioning of a school. Also, I don’t remember Fred Deutsch at the educator panel. They had them introduce all legislative members in attendance and I don’t remember him speaking. He may have been at the other sessions. The room was set up to hold about 130 people are so. It could not have been that much larger unless there was a lot of people standing around.

  3. Travis Wicks

    I was there with Michael yesterday (we started at the same table), and I came away with a similar sense that we were just scratching at the surface of the problem. We also ran out of time at the end to do much summarizing of the process as a whole.

    I had the thought after the meeting as people from the business community started arriving for their session that it might have been a more enlightening and productive strategy to try to incorporate both groups into one longer meeting, having the tables of small groups evenly split between folks from the educational world and folks from the business community. There are two entirely different economic and professional perspectives on funding education and it would have been helpful to hear what people with different experiences and perspectives would respond to those questions.

    Overall, it felt like a positive experience, but I didn’t gain any more hope for progress towards solving the problem.

  4. Curt Jopling

    We already know that “quality teachers and access to well-rounded education” are important. Neither of which is free. The elephant in the room is are we willing to pay for it.

  5. I was going to attend all sessions of the Watertown and Aberdeen meetings. But honestly at this point it almost seems futile and that I might find better ways to spend two days of the summer…

  6. Roger Cornelius

    We all know what the problems are with K-12 education funding, what is there to add?

    The problems with education in our state didn’t just happen overnight, they have evolved from 40 years of republican governors and legislators ignorance and neglect.

    I’m not holding my breath that this blue ribbon panel will accomplish a thing except delay the inevitable of letting K-12 programs and funding continue their downward spiral.

    There is absolutely no excuse for this mess Rounds and Daugaard have perpetuated over the past the past 13 or 14 years.

    We do know this, if there is money available to promote industrial parks and EB-5 programs there is money for education.

    The republicans lack the courage to look at the state budget and to start making cuts and prioritize the educational needs.

    How about we start with whacking about three fourths of those no-bid crony contracts?

  7. Ken, I’ll hit Aberdeen if you’ll hit Watertown!

  8. Roger Elgersma

    If the education people and the business people would be able to talk in small groups with many people on each side, the educators could have told business what they could offer if the funding was there. Most states have some problem finding enough high school math teachers. We have so much problem even finding enough to apply that half that do can not past the math test. So instead of raising the salary to attract more we bumble upon the idea to make the math test easier. Well even welders need to do math. Otherwise they might not weld square things well. If business can not get enough qualified people, how can they advertise low paying jobs that they can not get enough applicants for. How can they find enough qualified applicants to produce a quality product that can compete at home or abroad.
    If we can not find enough qualified welders, how can we ever find enough qualified professionals to manage them or their schools for their kids. Everything is woven together and it is all down and will stay there unless South Dakota redefines who they are.

  9. Roger Elgersma

    If we keep educators in one room, business people in another room and parents in another room, we can tell them each a different story and not get caught for a while. It is going to require a culture change and that will require a discussion where everyone understands each other rather than just the tea partiers talking cuts to business taxes, thank yours without more pay to teachers and we all have good values to parents. This might keep everyone voting for them, but not help the students or business or parents to rise to the next level.

  10. Wayne Fenner

    Roger Cornelius, you nailed it. DD’s Blue Ribbon panel was set up to legitimize SD educational funding and policies for the last several decades … and decades ahead. In their hands, nothing will change. Talented teachers will continue to leave the state … or their profession … in spite of the pre-determined conclusions of this “panel.” It would be funny if it weren’t so sad. SD youth suffer.

  11. Donald Pay

    Mercer has an interesting posting about video lottery money funding education. The posting is interesting because he really doesn’t mention anything educational that was funded by the video lottery money.

    Let me quote Mercer: “Contrary to the folklore spinning among many, South Dakota’s state law already dedicates nearly all of state government’s share of net machine income from video lottery to property tax reduction. In turn, the money in state government’s property tax reduction is dedicated to “property tax relief through state aid to education.” You can read the two laws here and here in the South Dakota Codified Laws. State government takes half of the money lost by players in the privately owned terminals.”

    You can read the entire piece at:

    What was done in the mid-1990s did not provide any additional education funding. The Net Machine Income, as Mercer explains, ultimately went to property tax reduction, not education. That it was done through the new education funding formula confused a lot of people. Mercer, at least, seems to understand what happened.

    Janklow was never quite that honest about it. He and most Republicans double counted that money, claiming it was used for property tax reduction and then claiming it was used to fund education.

    Here’s what happened: Janklow and the Republicans passed laws that prevented districts from raising property taxes above a certain amount each year. Since the state ha always refused to pay it’s fair share of money for education, districts had been funding it through hefty property tax increases year after year. With those funding sources capped by statute, districts would develop annual pits in their budget, which would grow bigger and bigger with each year. Janklow then charged in like the white knight he thought he was and used state money (mostly through the lottery) to backfill the huge pit that would have developed. No new money went to education. Only the source of money shifted a bit.

    The entire 1990s change was a big shell game, where Republicans claimed they were spending lots more money on education, but they were really limiting education spending, and using the education funding formula to pass property tax relief through the education funding formula.