Like Rep. G. Mark Mickelson (R-12/Sioux Falls) and Rep. Elizabeth May (R-27/Kyle) in their opposing statements in the official 2016 ballot question pamphlet, the committee promoting Amendment R, the vo-tech governance change, exaggerates the scope of the constitutional language change voters can make.
First, read Amendment R:
That Article XIV, section 3 of the Constitution of the State of South Dakota, be amended to read as follows:
§ 3. The state university, the agriculture college, the school of mines and technology, the normal schools, a school for the deaf, a school for the blind, and all other educational institutions that may be sustained either wholly or in part by the state and that offer academic or professional degrees of associate of arts, associate of sciences, baccalaureate or greater, shall be under the control of a board of five members appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the senate under such rules and restrictions as the Legislature shall provide. The Legislature may increase the number of members to nine. Postsecondary technical education institutes that offer career and technical associate of applied science degrees and certificates or their successor equivalents and that are funded wholly or in part by the state shall be separately governed as determined by the Legislature.
Now read the claims on the big card Tech Schools for South Dakota put in my mailbox yesterday:
Let’s check each claim with the actual ballot measure:
- “Updates outdated language in the SD Constitution”—true.
- “Provides for the inclusion of the Technical Institutes [must be important—they’re capitalized] and their unique form of postsecondary education into the constitution [not capitalized this time?]”—true but verbose: R doesn’t provide for the inclusion; it simply includes the vo-techs in the state constitution.
- “Enhances communication and coordination amongst Technical Institutes”—false. Nothing in R makes direct improvements in communication or coordination. Vote Yes on R, and the day it takes effect, nothing changes at the vo-techs.
- “Allows for Technical Institutes to have direct access to state government decision makers”—false and fuzzy. Any vo-tech administrator, instructor, or student can walk up to a legislator and express her views right now. That’s how Amendment R got on the ballot in the first place: vo-tech leaders lobbied the Legislature, testified in committee, and got 2015 HJR 1003 passed to put this governance measure to a public vote. Amendment R by itself does not enact or expand channels of vo-tech/government communication… and if it does, do voters care enough to make that a public selling point?
- “Affords South Dakota businesses an easier time finding skilled employees”—false. Again, day of enactment, South Dakota’s workforce shortage remains unchanged. Improvements in vo-tech worker production come only after the Legislature debates and approves whatever new form of vo-tech governance may strike their fancy after R passes, and there’s no guarantee that (1) the Legislature will pass a new governance scheme or (2) that any such scheme will solve the fundamental demographic problems making it hard for South Dakota employers to staff their openings.
- “Connects workers with jobs, helping retain talent in our state and allows our economy to grow”—false and poorly written. Amendment R specifies no new job-finder system. R enacts no worker-retention strategy. R adds not one job to our economy.
Four of the six claims made in this mailer are bushwah wishfulness, projections of what the vo-techs, legislators, and business interests hope the Legislature will be able to do if voters pass R. Making such claims could confuse and annoy voters who actually read Amendment R or the Attorney General’s explanation and realize that it doesn’t say anything about coordination, government access, job placement, or economic growth. Proponents should keep it simple: explain to South Dakotans that the vo-techs currently operate in an unconstitutional fashion and that passing R meets our responsibility to make sure all state institutions operate according to the rules.