This morning I jumped on KOTA’s report that Education Secretary Melody Schopp had fired the GEAR UP staff. Bob Mercer then reported that gubernatorial chief of staff Tony Venhuizen pointed out that Secretary Schopp technically can’t fire people who work for non-state entities like the non-profits that Mid-Central Educational Cooperative business manager Scott Westerhuis set up to handle the millions of federal dollars that the state Department of Education funneled into his Platte office to serve Native American students statewide.
Bob Mercer clarifies that both KOTA and Venhuizen were mostly right:
The KOTA TV story was substantially correct but erred on Schopp’s role. A letter from Schopp about halting the GEAR UP grant to Mid Central was read by GEAR UP director Stacy Phelps to GEAR UP employees on Tuesday. Phelps reportedly told them they were terminated. As for Venhuizen’s statement about Schopp, he was technically correct. GEAR UP now will flow the state Board of Regents in the future [Bob Mercer, “Venhuizen: Schopp Didn’t Fire SD GEAR UP Staff (w/update),” Pure Pierre Politics, 2015.09.25].
Venhuizen says the state wants GEAR UP to continue, but is moving a college prep program for middle schoolers and high schoolers to the Board of Regents’ dossier the best policy option? The Regents did conduct a fascinating and useful study in 2013, “Like Two Different Worlds,” that explored the difficulties American Indian students face in preparing for and succeeding at university. However, when the Regents asked the Legislature for funding for one measly Indian outreach coordinator, Republicans said no. The Regents have an interest in helping American Indians make it to and through university, but are the Regents best equipped to manage a program involving direct instruction for pre-university kids?
Maybe the DoE could more logically partner with the tribal colleges to run GEAR UP. Or maybe there’s a combination of expertise to be had: split the GEAR UP dollars between the tribal colleges and teachers from Teach for America. The tribal colleges asked for a mere $700K in state support this year to support their mission, but the Legislature refused. Teach for America is still doing good work for South Dakota’s Indian students, even though the Legislature defunded TfA in 2014 and refused their request for $500K this year. Four million-plus in GEAR UP dollars could go a long way toward helping both entities accomplish their missions: the tribal colleges could apply their experience with American Indian matriculators to develop plans which Teach for America instructors could execute face-to-face in their classrooms and communities.
Whether we put the Regents, the tribal colleges, Teach for America, or some combo of the three (hint!) in charge of GEAR UP, it would appear that the state, by effectively firing the current staff picked by the Mid-Central Educational Cooperative, has determined that the previous staff wasn’t getting results and someone else needs to oversee those big federal dollars to help our Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota students.