The 2015 SD GEAR UP Program Evaluation conducted by the USD Government Research Bureau issued in August 2015 concluded that South Dakota wasn’t getting much demonstrable bang for the federal bucks it spent. Offering classroom enrichment activities throughout the school year and a six-week academic summer camp at the School of Mines (as well as hefty windfalls to cronies and tricksters who knew how to make themselves look useful amidst obvious incompetence), GEAR UP was supposed to help South Dakota’s Indian students get ready for post-secondary education. As Bob Mercer reported on October 29, USD’s evaluation of the program found no clear evidence the SD GEAR UP achieved that goal.
At the time, Mercer noted that a member of the state Board of Education, Kelly Duncan, was one of the principal investigators from USD. Duncan has since become Dean of Education at Northern State University. She has served on the Board of Education since November 1996.
A review of the board minutes of the Mid-Central Educational Cooperative that ran SD GEAR UP reveals that, from June 2011 through December 2012, Duncan received $51,000 in stipends from MCEC for work on the College Access federal grant, which MCEC runs under contract with the Department of Education.*
Governor Dennis Daugaard would say the conflict of interest between serving on the state Board of Education and drawing a check from a federal grant secured by the Department of Education is no worse than that of Stacy Phelps, who resigned from the Board to avoid being a “distraction” from the Board’s work. The financial benefits Duncan drew from MCEC’s implementation of one federal grant didn’t prevent her from directing an evaluation that found MCEC’s implementation of another federal grant producing little evidence of expected results for Indian students.
But the fact that a member of the state Board of Education could draw a paycheck from the contractor in charge of a federal grant won by the Department of Education, then lead an evaluation of another grant run by the same contractor, reflects the nearly incestuous relationships that permeate South Dakota government. That’s all the more reason that we need greater transparency and accountability in South Dakota’s use of taxpayer money.
*Update 2015.11.12 05:59 CST: According to this summary of federal grant access programs discussed by the state Board of Education at its August 24, 2015, meeting, South Dakota’s College Access grant runs out this year. The feds cut us off in 2013 because Governor Dennis Daugaard cut too much from our higher education budget.