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GEAR UP Spent $700K Per Additional College Student; Why Not Just Give Scholarships?

Angela Kennecke reports that in the first years of its GEAR UP program, South Dakota spent $14 million over six years with the intent of sending three more Indian kids to college:

…former grant writer and reviewer Michael Wyland says people should remember it took a couple of years to get the program off the ground.

However, he says the original goal of GEAR UP was to only increase the number of students accepted into college by five percent or just three students.

“After $14 million of effort, you would hope you’d get more than three additional students going.  The good news is they were successful in getting far more than three additional students going,” Wyland said.

But GEAR UP still failed to meet objective after objective according to the final performance review [Angela Kennecke, “Following GEAR UP to Its Beginnings in SD,” KELO TV, 2015.12.29].

Kennecke says a performance report (which she doesn’t put online, because when KELO gets a document, they don’t believe in letting us see for ourselves) shows the first GEAR UP program sent twenty kids to college. $14 million, 20 students—that’s $700,000 per student.

Wyland figures that since 2005, South Dakota has spent $48 million in federal and state funds (that includes the match we’re required to put forward) on GEAR UP. If we had applied $48 million to scholarships, we could have given 800 Indian students full-ride four-year scholarships to South Dakota public universities. Republicans go bonkers when they think someone’s advocating “free college,” but wouldn’t free college have been a better use of that money than whatever South Dakota did with GEAR UP?

South Dakota’s Department of Education has let a 48-million-dollar boondoggle roll on for over ten years without demanding any concrete results. South Dakota Legislature, you’ve authorized this spending authority without asking harder questions. Legislators, before allowing the Department of Education to slide this program over to the Board of Regents, you will finally ask Secretary Schopp those hard questions, won’t you?


  1. Nick Nemec 2015-12-31 08:35

    Free college for the 800 most qualified South Dakota Indian kids would have cut the insider grifters out of the loop. We can’t have that.

  2. Nick Nemec 2015-12-31 08:41

    Could 800 college educated young Indians, who wouldn’t have been able to attend college otherwise, possibly be the catalyst needed to turn the endemic poverty on the reservations around?

    Squandered opportunities, it’s the South Dakota story told over and over. We all know the tune, we just need to learn the words to the next verse.

  3. oldguy7850 2015-12-31 08:44

    I can’t believe the amount of money spent here with so little results. How anybody an say this was good for the native people is so wrong. I would hope law enforcement follows the real money trail including personal tax returns.

  4. Richard Schriever 2015-12-31 09:00

    Next time you hear a “conservative” railing on about the wastefulness and mismanagement of the Federal Government, I thinks it’s safe to assume there’s a considerable amount of ENVY driving those pronouncements. There’s plenty of evidence to support that assumption here, in EB-5, etc.

  5. Paul Seamans 2015-12-31 09:00

    This makes Jason Gant’s efforts to increase military votes look terribly cheap by comparison. Wasn’t his cost per additional vote only something like $228,000? Jason maybe should get some sort of efficiency bonus.

  6. 96Tears 2015-12-31 09:12

    Compare Sanford Leader’s top 10 stories of 2015 with Angela Kennecke’s reporting this week on GEAR UP scandals, and you have to wonder if Sanford Leader’s lazy, unfocused staff live in the same state as the rest of us. The destruction of newspaper journalism in South Dakota starts with the staff of the state’s largest newspaper, bankrolled by the nation’s largest chain news corporation. Al Neuharth would wretch at that list if, indeed, it is the best his home state flagship newspaper can deliver.

    Here is what Sanford Leader considers the top 10 news stories of 2015, apparently laundered by Gov. Daugaard’s propaganda office:

  7. mike from iowa 2015-12-31 09:12

    It is wingnut run South Dakota and you expected positive or at least better results?

  8. mike from iowa 2015-12-31 09:23

    Yeah,Nick,that is quite possible,but the state no longer has that money to try to prove your hypothesis correct. What a bunch of dumbasses!

  9. mike from iowa 2015-12-31 09:28

    Paul s-Gant’s folly cost $668000 and got 27 votes for a cost per vote of just under $25000.($24740 approx) I liked your total better. It seems more fitting for your state.

  10. rsterling 2015-12-31 09:40

    Would you expect anything different from the state’s good ole boys. And how many other grant programs currently operating in the state are experiencing the same corruption? The beat goes on.

  11. jerry 2015-12-31 09:43

    About time for another cry story about how this program really really did help Native students. I am not a genius, but I can tell you that fiscally, scholarships would have been a hell of a lot cheaper and would have produced a lot more positive results. Get Gear Up to the reservation colleges so they can manage them and put the focus back on the students.

  12. Paul Seamans 2015-12-31 09:43

    Thanks Mike for the correct figures. That really makes Gant look like an efficiency expert. Good job Jason.

  13. moses 2015-12-31 10:57

    Jason Gant give me a break .What a black eye for the S.O.S.I will say though Chris Nelson did a great job there, but a dismal Puc Commissioner .Looks like a professional like the basketball guy Thune.

  14. Michael Wyland 2015-12-31 11:29

    The estimated total for both SD GEAR UP grants isn’t $48 million, it’s $62 million. The first GEAR UP grant was approx. $7 million in federal funds matched by about $7 million in local funds. The second (current) SD GEAR UP grant’s application was for about $24 million in federal funds with the same 1:1 local match requirement.

    NOTE: The SD Board of Regents proposal to the SD Dept. of Ed., who must forward it to the US Dept. of Ed. for approval, is to reduce both the federal and local match funding for the remainder of the current grant period. Therefore, the projected $62 million total will likely be reduced, but it’s unclear at this point by how much.

  15. Michael Wyland 2015-12-31 11:31

    Sorry – I should have added the following clarification for people not following the story:

    After terminating the agreement with MidCentral Educational Cooperative to manage the SD GEAR UP grant, the SD Dept. of Ed. asked the SD Board of Regents to take over management of the grant and secured approval from the US Dept. of Ed. to do so.

  16. larry kurtz 2015-12-31 11:38

    Mr. Wyland: care to speculate how your findings intersect with Mike Rounds’ crusade against the Department of Education?

  17. Rorschach 2015-12-31 11:47

    Pigs at the trough. Leeches. That describes the political insiders who latched onto this program and designed and/or hijacked it to enrich themselves.

    Incompetents. That’s the most charitable description I can come up with for the Governor’s appointees who let this go on and on, frittering away millions and watching the insiders bleed the program for their own profit.

    Nobody has been held accountable by the Daugaard administration. Nobody.

  18. Bill Dithmer 2015-12-31 12:36

    SD continues to self distruct. Not from the program itself, but from several people that at best were frauds, and at their worst thieves. Its not really for me to say, being an xpat now, but the failure to administrate seems to be an infection that can only be brought under control through amputation.

    There were good, no scratch that, great people that already knew the problem because they have lived it. One of these people just passed in the last couple of days, Cloreta Eisenbraun.

    She spent her life teaching on the reservation, at my last count 66 years. Her son Randy has over forty years teaching, 30 on the Pine Ridge.

    There are more people like these two, why haven’t they been tapped? If you want to fix a problem, you dont tell a politician. Politicians play the game for money and fame, and you could expect nothing less if they have no dog in the fight.

    Cloreta was a grand old lady and was what every educator should strive to be. Its called commitment. Very few have that quality, and fewer still knowledge that is all reservation, but they are out there.

    Rest in peace Cloreta.

    The Blindman

  19. John 2015-12-31 12:56

    It’s time to look at all of the grants from the Federal Government. I’ll bet we would find more of the same.

    It’s that a ha moment that tells me why Republicans wanted federal money to come in the form of Block Grants.

  20. sherry 2015-12-31 14:12

    I feel like I must comment on this post, but I am so sick and disgusted by the entire SD leadership that it is near impossible to say anything even coherent. The Gear Up debacle is shameful. Most of the money went to people who contributed nothing to meeting the objectives of the grant. Yes, scholarships would have made a lot more sense. And yes, I am sure there are more funds out there going in the wrong pockets.

  21. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-12-31 14:21

    Thank you for clarifying that number, Michael. $62 million as our total GEAR UP spending—that’s an important number to remember and talk about.

    Under what conditions, Michael, can the state reduce its match?

  22. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-12-31 14:24

    (96, that Sioux Falls paper does note that the top 10 stories listed there are the most clicked on stories of the year. I know from my own blog experience that the articles that draw the most readers aren’t necessarily the most important stories. Nonetheless, I’m preparing my own Dakota Free Press/Madville Times readers’ choice list of top stories in 2015, because it is interesting and instructive to see what people decide to read and discuss.)

  23. Oldhag 2015-12-31 14:29

    Gear-up is a drop in the bucket—-Indeed just go to

    You will find that MCEC received over $30M in prime and sub-awards 2008 -2016, so if yal think the teachers should be getting paid more, how about yanking ole Guericke back in front of cameras and maybe a subpoena or 2?
    Check out where are the money has been going since 2008.
    If you want to bother, look at the Teacher Incentive Fund the 5-year grant was $20,824,871. the SD DOE got this money in 2007-2012, but most went to TIE et al…hey wait is that why SD teachers are so poorly paid?

    Maybe the Blue-Ribbon Panel should ask for that money back?

  24. jake 2015-12-31 15:31

    Is there @ present any Republican legislators with enough nerve (gonads perhaps) to undertake a self-exam of this damnable corruption of our state? Or Democrats? Independents? Shotgun pellets out of the end of a barrel should be aimed at the legislators allowing this to happen instead of int the bodies of a wife and kids of one of the instigators…

  25. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-12-31 17:40

    Oldhag, I share your outrage, but can we funnel federal grant money into teacher salaries? Governor Daugaard would say heck no—that’s one-time money. I’d say heck no—instead of rolling the dice and sitting up and begging every year or three for grant money from Uncle Sam that will require them to jump through more hoops, we should pay our teachers out of our own pockets for the work they are already doing for South Dakota.

  26. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-12-31 17:42

    Jake, no shooting allowed!

    But Jake is right about undertaking a serious examination of every nook and cranny of state government. The 2016 Legislature has an obligation to slow everything down, cut the number of fruity bills and resolutions, and dedicate numerous committee hearings to rigorous auditing of the budget, complete with testimony from and interrogation of as many department heads and employees as we can run through the committee rooms.

    Any legislator who declines to sniff out corruption in Pierre should be sent home and replaced with a candidate who vows to investigate corruption.

  27. Porter Lansing 2015-12-31 21:55

    Here’s a worthy Native American endeavor.
    We created the Stronghold Society because we believe in a philosophy, to support this current generation, to inspire through skateboarding, music and the arts… to help create a space for them to be creative and share their voice and talents with their communities, this nation and this world… we believe our indigenous youth play a key role in the LIVE LIFE Movement because it is embedded in their DNA to be the caretakers of this planet. Embedded in their way of life to be connected to all that is, to understand the Mother Earth nurturing that is needed ensure a healthy existence within ourselves and within all that is around us… to be connected to spirit and the essence of life. They can be at the forefront of the biggest humanity movement ever in our lifetime. Teach them, help them in all you do. We are doing our part and will continue to inspire them through what ever creative means and community relation building we can with others to do so, it is a worthy cause… we believe in them… so they believe in us.

    Walt Pourier
    Executive Director
    facebook: walt pourier

    The Stronghold Society nonprofit dedicated to instilling hope and supporting youth movements through Live Life Call To Action Campaigns.

  28. Eve Fisher 2016-01-01 09:38

    Because scholarships might go to the undeserving, but salaries for consultants always go to the right people. This state is making me sicker and sicker…

  29. Gracie 2016-01-01 09:54

    I know of a rez school that uses the funds to prepare the kids for college. One example is getting computers that they didn’t have funds for before.
    I’d suggest learning how the schools are using it, and pare down and simplify the administration of it, and set good enforceable measurements. That would give more money to help many individuals instead of picking a gew for a grant.
    These rez schools have challenges that our other schools don’t.

  30. jake 2016-01-01 16:30

    Eve Fisher–your comment @9:54 needs to be put into RC Journal’s TWO CENTS!!!!

  31. Michael Wyland 2016-01-01 17:41


    The state can reduce its match if it reduces the amount of federal funds it requests thorough the grant. The most likely scenario is that the state is experiencing difficulties in substantiating the local match dollars being provided to the grant-funded activities. Negotiating (with the US Dept. of Ed.) a reduction in the scope of activities and a reduction in budget for those activities would allow the feds to give SD less money and allow SD to line up its activities with the local match which can be documented.

  32. Porter Lansing 2016-01-02 09:20

    Judging Indigenous peoples progress by white standards is as wrong today as it was when young Indians were beaten for speaking the language of their Fathers and Mothers. Native people are Earth centered and artistically driven. A few million spent on developing the arts would bring many to what whites consider personal achievement, financial security and societal contribution while enriching the Reservations immeasurably.

  33. Porter Lansing 2016-01-02 09:56

    i.e. What you have is a state full of Germans. Germans are great at putting their nose to the grindstone and stubbornly going at it day after day. They judge all peoples by their ability to do what Germans do well. But, give a bunch of Germans funding for an art project and they come up with a societal abomination like Ki-Yi and then defend it beyond sanity. It’s beyond what whites in South Dakota can comprehend how Native people thrive, let alone give them assistance.

  34. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-01-03 09:09

    Michael, would someone in Platte or Pierre have a complete accounting of every matching dollar and every in-kind contribution interpreted as matching dollars?

  35. mike from iowa 2016-01-03 09:29

    Porter.I believe German POWs were enlisted to help build the Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend,iowa. They were held in a camp in Mason City,iowa during WW2. I believe many have returned to view the masterpiece they helped build. So,I guess with some direction they are capable of great works of art. No,I have never seen it. Too religiousy for my tastes. Haven’t seen the internment camp either.

  36. mike from iowa 2016-01-03 09:35

    Didn’t civic minded korporations and businesses at one time donate computers to needy school kids? I imagine it is still a good tax write off and consumer relations bonanza for korporate amerika. For profits don’t seem to like the idea of charity anymore unless they are the benefactors of gubmint largesse.

  37. Porter Lansing 2016-01-03 11:02

    Here’s how many of German heritage (German is the majority heritage in the state) have fun. Deriving personal enjoyment by denying yourself personal enjoyment. i.e. White people in SoDak have more fun by being disciplined than by letting their hair down and doing something crazy. This is quite contrary to the Native American culture. White people want Indians to be white people and get upset when they don’t want to be. Why should they want to. The only real artistic culture in the state is Native and it should be nurtured.

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