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:
 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).
 …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.
 …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.