Jensen, Russell Offer Real Policies for Increased Teacher Pay (and Stealth Vouchers)

O.K., I’ve finally gotten around to viewing the videos of the press conference Rep. Elizabeth May (R-27/Kyle) and other legislators held in Rapid City on July 9 to call for a special session of the Legislature. I have said that the special session call is a distracting effort to revisit the debate over Common Core standards. While legislators in attendance did talk Common Core, they did present some other policy ideas that could come up if the Legislature wanted to have a serious talk about K-12 funding. These legislators appear to agree that the state has shorted K-12 education, that a teacher shortage has resulted from that underfunding, and that we need to put more money in the K-12 pot. They are simply desperate to find any solution other than raising taxes.

Let’s look more closely at the videos of that meeting (Part 1 and Part 2):

Senator Phil Jensen (R-33/Rapid City) says we should take a bigger chunk of the $514-million Education Enhancement Trust Fund, a creation of tobacco settlement money. The state already takes 4% a year from that fund for education, which appropriation Senator Jensen says as of April 2015 equaled $20.5 million. Senator Jensen says take an additional $20.5 million out of that fund to boost teacher pay. I’d be alarmed at the suggestion—spending more of our interest seems like a sure-fire way to drain an investment fund to have less earnings potential to keep up with inflation, but in FY2014, the Education Enhancement Fund had $70 million in income, a return better than 16%. Senator Jensen may indeed have a viable ongoing funding mechanism for teacher pay raises.

But what Senator Jensen giveth, Senator Jensen also taketh away. Senator Jensen advocates education savings accounts as a way around the limitation on using vouchers to direct public money to private religious schools. In Arizona and Florida, parents get a debit card and can use it on educational expenses:

The state deposits the funds it would have spent educating a given child in public schools into a bank account controlled by his parents. The parents can use those funds — the amount ranges from $5,000 to more than $30,000 a year — to pay for personal tutors, homeschooling workbooks, online classes, sports team fees and many types of therapy, including horseback riding lessons for children with disabilities. They can also spend the money on private school tuition or save some of it for college [Stephanie Simon, “States Weigh Turning Education Funds over to Parents,” Politico, 2015.02.06].

Courts have upheld an Arizona educational savings account program since the direct beneficiary is families, not private schools, so state money is not being used directly to support religion. But if Senator Jensen isn’t increasing revenue, then this plan inevitably shifts resources away from public schools and teacher pay. It also ignores the basic principle of public education: the money we spend on public schools is not about educating our own children and to heck with everyone else. The money we spend on public schools is about maintaining the fabric of society by making sure every child receives a fair and free education.

Amusingly, Senator Jensen cites education report cards from the American Legislative Exchange Council showing that South Dakota is falling further behind in identifying high quality teachers, retaining effective teachers, and removing ineffective teachers… all of which sound like code for ALEC priorities of wrecking education with merit pay and anti-labor provisions. (The most recent ALEC education report card ranks South Dakota 49th for education quality.) Yet from this information, Senator Jensen concludes that

You wonder why we’re losing teachers in South Dakota. One, we’ve got to pay them adequate pay, and then two, we’ve got to stop mandating these common core standards that are just a weight around the ankles of our teachers, and we need to set them free to teach and do what they do best [Senator Phil Jensen, press conference, Rapid City, South Dakota, 2015.07.09, timestamp 1:44].

Senator Jensen’s conclusions find no support in the 2014 ALEC education report, which speaks dismissively of efforts to raise teacher pay in Chicago and advocates rigorous standards and testing for accountability. But if Senator Jensen wants to ignore what ALEC is actually saying and argue for making teachers’ lives better, let’s not get in his way!

Rep. Lance Russell (R-30/Hot Springs) asks “Why not consider Common Core?” Rep. Russell estimates that the state is spending $20 million to $25 million on Common Core. He says taking that topic off the table is foolish, since our standards and testing could fund a quarter of the pay increase we need to get our teachers to 38th in the nation. I applaud Rep. Russell for getting off the tinfoil concerns about Common Core as a socialist/Obama plot and focusing on the fiscal impacts. But Rep. Russell assumes here that we would get rid of state standards and testing completely, not just revert to some other set of standards. Alas, I’m the only person I know who has advocated getting rid of state standards completely. If Rep. Russell thinks banning Common Core means instant savings, he’s got some persuading to do.

Moving to bigger fiscal horses, Rep. Russell says the Governor and Legislature have “starved the school districts” while prioritizing other less valuable projects. Rep. Russell points to $30 million for Build South Dakota and highlights the money dedicated to ESL classes and housing for immigrant workers drawn here by industries supported by the EB-5 program. Rep. Russell also points to low-income housing for this increasing immigrant population, additional parole and probation officers to supervise the increasing number of felons released into communities by Governor Daugaard’s criminal justice reform, and more state employees hired to comply with ObamaCare as proof that the state’s budget priorities are out of whack.

Rep. Russell proposes dedicating half of the state’s sales tax to education to add $50 million to state K-12 funding. Add savings from cutting standards, and we get $75 million of the $80 million Rep. Russell says we need to raise our teacher pay to 38th in the nation.

Rep. Russell says that Hot Springs lost six good, experienced teachers in one year to Wyoming. Rep. Russell says that dedicating more money to teacher pay is “how we keep our teachers.”

Rep. Lynne DiSanto (R-35/Rapid City) offers no concrete policy proposals. It’s not even clear that she agrees with her colleagues’ suggestions for putting more money in the K-12 pot. Trying to spin the failed Rapid City opt-out vote as a sign that she and her fellow naysayers believe in funding education adequately, Rep. DiSanto says the problem with our school budgets is a spending issue, not a revenue issue. I guess that could mean she agrees with Rep. Russell’s point about budget priorities.

Senator Jensen and Representative Russell acknowledge that the teacher shortage is real and that higher teacher pay is the solution. That by itself is a victory for common sense in the South Dakota Legislature.

These two conservative Republicans also put a few good ideas on the flow. If they could mobilize a majority of legislators to raise $75 million from existing state funds to raise teacher pay without draining the K-12 pool with stealth vouchers, I’d be all for a special session of the Legislature. Now let’s see if Jensen and Russell can make that case to their colleagues.

33 Responses to Jensen, Russell Offer Real Policies for Increased Teacher Pay (and Stealth Vouchers)

  1. Bob Newland

    Cory says: “Alas, I’m the only person I know who has advocated getting rid of state standards completely.”

    Now there are two. With Cory and me behind getting rid of state “educational standards” completely, how can they remain for long?

    I am for getting the “state” out of the education game entirely. The “state” has never educated anyone, except perhaps in what not to do.

  2. Mr. H and my good friend Bob have convinced me. I, too, join them as the three tined fork of anti-standards to poke at the establishments.

  3. Porter Lansing

    The state educated me and my relatives (although some paid to attend Catholic school) and my friends and the misguided Conservatives in my class, also. The SDEA is under attack by ALEC (Koch Brothers) not because of underperformance but because it’s a collective bargaining agent, contrary to the selfishness agenda of Conservatives. CO shut it down, properly.

  4. I’m glad you posted this with the videos embedded. Someone sent me the audio of the event, but it is very poor quality! Now I just have to find time to blog about it….

    For the record there are quite a few of us that have been publicly saying standards should go away. That idea seems to scare a lot of people of all political persuasions. So I agree, even if Common Core goes away (which I hope it does), I think that means the state will just go back to its old standards.

  5. “The money we spend on public schools is about maintaining the fabric of society by making sure every child receives a fair and free education.”

    Exactly! That is why as a tax payer with NO children, I don’t have a problem with supporting public education. If people who send their kids to private school think they deserve money back, then in all reality, people who never have children to begin with deserve 100% back.

  6. Deb Geelsdottir

    I don’t have children either South Dacola, and I have never minded support for public education in the form of taxes or anything else. We under educate and under serve children at our own risk. Few of the probationers and parolees Daugard is releasing were very successful in school. We pay for them now or pay for them later.

    I’d much rather upgrade our public education system from pre-K through higher education. Then not only are we much more likely keep them out of prison, we’ll almost certainly benefit from the contributions they’ll make to our society.

    Win/win/win/win . . . . Good public education is nothing but Wins, top to bottom.

  7. Deb Geelsdottir

    Oh, about testing. I can see one per year to measure student progress only. That would be the teacher’s test of her subject matter for her information. Perhaps she discusses the results at parent/teacher conferences, or a meeting with her teaching peers.

    Maybe a generic regional or national test once every 3rd year or so.

    I do support the ACT annually for high school juniors. It’s a good way to see where a school is at, but the results should not be used to punish or condemn. (MN stopped paying for the ACT every junior in the state this year. I think that’s a bad idea.)

  8. “Whether or not you have children, you know that education is vital to the prosperity and future of our society… Examining the history of education in this country, Dr. Paul identifies where we’ve gone wrong, what we can do about it, and how we can change the way we think about education in order to provide a brighter future for Americans.”

  9. Deb wrote:
    >“Few of the probationers and parolees Daugard [sic] is releasing were very successful in school.”

    Much of the sorting and labeling in public education drives less intellectually gifted children to antisocial behavior.

    >“We pay for them now or pay for them later. I’d much rather upgrade our public education system from pre-K through higher education. Then not only are we much more likely keep them out of prison, we’ll almost certainly benefit from the contributions they’ll make to our society.”

    Many years ago a school district where I was teaching hosted a far-left state legislator to speak to a mandatory faculty meeting. The legislator presented the argument that more public education spending will keep kids out of prison: “That way instead of taking money out of the system, we can get them paying into the system.”

    I sat there half shocked, looking around the room to see whether anyone else had heard what I’d heard. We want to keep kids out of prison so we can “get them paying into the system”?

    Now I know that’s not what Deb said, and she’s absolutely right that “we’ll almost certainly benefit from the contributions they’ll make to our society,” but is our desire to keep kids out of prison really driven primarily by selfish motives?

  10. mike from iowa

    Dr? Paul also claims we are headed for another fiscal crisis worse than 2008 with his party of lemmings leading the herd off the edge of the earth.

  11. “mike from iowa” wrote:
    >“Dr? Paul also claims …”

    Is the question mark a typo, Mike? Ron has overseen the births of several thousand children.

  12. Douglas Wiken

    Kurt Evans: What difference does it make what is the motivation for keeping kids out of prison and instead contributing to society? There may be a hundred other good reasons, but the one that goes with policy is both and economic and social motivation.

  13. mike from iowa

    So is his son?,I guess.

  14. Douglas Wiken asks me:
    >“What difference does it make what is the motivation for keeping kids out of prison and instead contributing to society?”

    They can tell when we don’t really care about them as individuals, and it creates a simmering bitterness that often drives them to antisocial behavior.

  15. I’ve only listened to the first 5 minutes Of Rep. Mays talk and I’ll listen to the whole thing but she only gave a small attention to the teacher shortage while going off on Common Core.
    To me it looks like a special session will be about Common Core and Common Core only-which would be a waste of time.

  16. I’ll give Rep. Russell credit with some interesting ideas. The video lottery money was supposed to go to education anyway. That’s how it was sold to South Dakotans.
    The voucher idea is B.S. As you said Cory that will take money out of education.

    We’ll see. I’m more then skeptical. I still think they are using the teacher shortage to get to Common Core. Especially Rep. May.

  17. Deb Geelsdottir

    Kurt, I worked as a case manager in a minimum security prison for 3 years and it was an incredible, intense learning experience for me. I mean that in regard not only to the inmates, but also the corrections professionals.

    I don’t recall the name of the professional corrections journal we received monthly, but I was astonished at the smart and open people in the profession. One of their chief recommendations was to take all the money from rehabilitation and direct every cent of it to youth, including schools and youth programs. Those people and their lifetimes of experience told them that if youth were properly cared for, including education, prison populations would crash following the precipitous drop in crime.

    Good education has a powerful deterrent effect on crime. It’s a fact.

  18. I’m looking at Bob’s comment above and thinking about Kurtz’s ultimatum and thinking dang, maybe I really am a Libertarian. Hmm… I wonder if my 52% rating has changed since last summer.

  19. Owen, I was pleased to hear Rep. Russell and Sen. Jensen both offer some ideas beyond Common Core. Rep. Russell needs to clarify whether he plans to abolish standards altogether for real savings or if he’s just offering Rep. May some fiscal cover for the special session’s real agenda.

    But another problem lies in the multiple ideas presented in the press conference. Folks calling for a one-day special session are usually past the brainstorming stage. They have a very specific agenda, a very specific bill, and a lot of agreement behind that bill. They don’t stand a month out with a bunch of suggestions and expect the Legislature to duly research, take testimony on, and debate a variety of possible proposals before beating them into the form of a specific bill at 11:58 p.m. during the special session.

    If the special session is really about Common Core, no one is going to vote to burn up a summer day revisiting an argument that they already had last winter. If, as the press conference suggests, the special session is really as vague as “Hey! Let’s talk K-12 funding!” no one is going to vote to spend one day having a discussion that probably will take a full session. We don’t need to spend more than 60 seconds talking about the problem—even Jensen and Russell appear to agree that we’re short on teachers and must pay them more. We will need to spend a full session trading horses, twisting arms, and rubbing evidence in certain legislators faces until they cry uncle and vote for a real plan with real dollars.

  20. And Ken, Libertarian boss, agrees: no more state standards! Forget pot; I’ll back the Libertarians if they get serious about education reform (without vouchers, stealth vouchers, or any other such anti-social proposals).

  21. See that link Porter gives us to the Colorado voucher case? Conservatives took over the local school district and voted to drain their own budget with the “scholarship” voucher program. Conservatives have an opening to sneak in at the local level… and oh my, ALEC has formed a branch, American City Council Exchange, to do exactly that: co-opt local governments to promote ALEC’s corporate-fascist agenda even further away from the spotlight of the national media.

    Sometimes I think we need a Democracy Reset button. Absent that, we have some serious fights ahead. Pay attention to your school board elections and to the 2016 Legislative Session!

  22. ChicagoBen

    I’m all for supporting education, but we can’t rely on the Education Enhancement Fund returning 16% year over year. What will happen when returns are negative? Will we not send out the $20 million?

    4% may be slightly conservative, but you really can’t go above long-term equity returns (~7%).

  23. Donald Pay

    Seriously, no one is going to actually support “no standards.” Oh, wait, yes, the school privatizers want no standards. No standards means you really don’t give a shit what students learn. All you care about is the money.

    We all criticize businesses who feed at the public trough to create jobs, then create 3 new positions to huge fanfare before they ship 300 overseas. There’s “no standards” for you.

    Enron, the sewage ash scam, EB-5. “No standards.”

    Gambling? Yeah, they “sold” it as helping schools. Anyone who believed that and voted for gambling probably feels betrayed. Fact is there was no legal connection in the wording of the Constitutional amendment, or in the legislation that followed. You need to read the bills, and stop listening to the ads and the public relations bullshitters. A portion of the gambling money trickles through the complex way they parcel out the state’s share of the machine proceeds, and makes its way through the budgetary process into schools. Not much, but some.

  24. Mr. Pay, stop tugging at the curtain. Some people like a little chaos in their day, and what could be more entertaining than mass chaos in the schools?

  25. Donald Pay

    So, you ask, why did they sell gambling as helping schools? Because South Dakota leadership have never wanted to pay for anything, especially not to educate their own children (this is nothing new, see). They want someone else to pay, and if they could fool enough folks that gambling was for schools, then they could continue to shirk their responsibilities.

    At the time gambling was being considered, the state was refusing to stop being a deadbeat (much as now), the local districts were picking up the state’s share as best they could (that legally can’t happen now without an opt out), property taxes were rising and property tax payers were upset (with some justification) at ever-increasing school taxes. It was pretty easy for the p.r. operatives to convince the legislators to sell the lie to South Dakotans.

  26. Deb wrote:
    >“Those people and their lifetimes of experience told them that if youth were properly cared for, including education, prison populations would crash following the precipitous drop in crime. Good education has a powerful deterrent effect on crime. It’s a fact.”

    It’s almost a rhetorical tautology. We agree, Deb. My point is only that good education requires us to show genuine concern for the well-being of students as individuals, and to carefully avoid defining their value based arbitrarily established academic standards or potential contributions to society.

  27. “based” = “based on”

  28. Bob Newland

    Cory, you are in alignment with libertarian thinking on some issues, as is everyone.

    The core philosophy of libertarianism is that it is immoral to initiate force or fraud to achieve personal or political goals.

    That’s a fairly tough standard to adhere to, but we feel that moving in that direction is better than moving the other way.

  29. Bob Newland

    Grudz, your comments are, as usual, less than useful.

  30. oh but so cute. a “mini-me” ala austin powers perhaps. or just a POS :o

  31. ChicagoBen has a reasonable point: if the long-term rate of return is 7%, taking 8% each year (the current 4% plus Jensen’s proposed 4%) is unsustainable. Using the tobacco money is another effort to get by without really working or sacrificing; is a plan that raises teacher pay by raising new revenue—i.e., raising taxes—just too hard for our Legislature to accept?

  32. Deb Geelsdottir

    We are fully in agreement Kurt. The money angle is for the cheapskates who have to see something, $, in it for them.

    I believe that because it’s the right thing to do should be enough for decent, moral human adults. It is for me and probably for a large chunk of people. However, such people don’t tend to run for political offices. We all probably should.

  33. In a nut shell, we need to stop the conservatives games and fully fund education with out trying to divert money to any voucher or private school. And with out depleting the tobacco money fund. We should only be using the interest and perhaps not all of that! Let’s face it, we have to increase revenue, i.e , taxes in some form to educate our children and protect our future!