Press "Enter" to skip to content

20 House Members Say Nay to Public Schools, Yea to Private Schools

Two weeks ago, 21 House members voted against providing $67 million in new state revenue to public schools via House Bill 1182:

Roll call, HB 1182, South Dakota House, 2016.02.22
Roll call, HB 1182, South Dakota House, 2016.02.22

This morning, 20 of those 21 House members (not Rep. Lana Greenfield, R-2/Doland) voted for providing $2 million in existing state revenue to private schools via Senate Bill 159:

SB 159 House Roll Call
Roll call, SB 159, South Dakota House, 2016.03.08

Reps. Beal, Brunner, Campbell, DiSanto, Feickert, Gosch, Haggar, Heinemann, Hunt, Langer, Latterell, Marty, May, Qualm, Rounds, Russell, Stalzer, Westra, and Wiik resisted their constitutional duty under Article 8, Section 1, to adequately fund public schools, then violated Article 6, Section 3, and Article 8, Section 16, to launder public money into tax credits for scholarships to sectarian schools.

No appropriation of lands, money or other property or credits to aid any sectarian school shall ever be made by the state… [Article 8, Section 16, South Dakota Constitution].

Voters, please educate these 20 Representatives as to the proper reading of the state constitution.


  1. Darin Larson 2016-03-08 14:00

    I thought the legislature was filled with strict constructionists and honorees of our Constitution? Now does sentiment just apply to the US Constitution? Maybe for the state constitution they would like a modern-day interpretation?

    Even Republican appointees to the state supreme court are going to have a hard time ignoring the state constitution on this issue. Looks like we can look forward to spending some more money on legal fees trying to defend the indefensible. That would be more money that won’t be spent on public education.

  2. Charlene Lund 2016-03-08 14:24

    I have been wondering how many of the SD Legislators send their kids to private schools and how many home school? I think there is a conflict of interest in the legislature regarding public school funding. There is no place for SD taxes and state revenues to be supporting any education but public schools. Do numbers exist that will tell us how many legislators send their children to private schools or home school?

  3. roberta 2016-03-08 15:29

    It looks like while Brian Gosch and the rest of them were promising they could “find” money for education in the current budget, they had already set aside this “found” insurance money for the private schools. Why are they working harder for the private schools than for the schools that rely on their public support? Why do we elect these guys again?!?

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-08 18:16

    Thanks for sharing that essay, Randee! I’m glad we agree that even if we value private school as an alternative, we still have an obligation to support free education for everyone. Spending money to help some kids choose private school does not excuse one from the obligation to pay taxes to support public school.

  5. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-08 18:17

    All good questions, Roberta, to pose to voters in Gosch’s District 32.

    Darin, I share your distaste for conditional defense of the state constitution.

  6. Jenny 2016-03-08 18:20

    Cory, I was thinking you should ask Al to have some public debates.

  7. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-08 18:45

    I agree, Jenny. I think we should have one a week, each devoted to a different topic. Al and I could lead a great discussion about the merits of SB 159 here in a town with two sectarian high schools.

  8. mike from iowa 2016-03-08 19:05

    So wingnuts go out of their way to pick winners(unconstitutionally) in the game of educating South Dakota’s children. Why I never. Is there any subject these total fools won’t lie about. They are not upholding the constitution,they are ignoring it.

  9. Robbie 2016-03-08 21:42

    Once again people speaking who don’t know the full intention of this bill. This bill will not affect public funds, whatsoever! I’m an educator the public schools and my kids attend a private school. This bill will not have any impact on myself or my family but this is South Dakota and all students should be considered when our legislature meets. These students and schools are still part of the State. We not only pay taxes for public funding, in which our own students don’t benefit, plus tuition on top of that. Public schools should be glad to get our tax money above their student enrollment. This bill ONLY assists a small number of people and they still have to pay a majority of the tuition. These kids are still our SD children!

  10. John Wrede 2016-03-08 23:24

    So who is it that has standing to sue the State of South Dakota for misappropriating money to support private schools? Not that I favor using the public dole to finance private education but I’m quite curious who has a legitimate complaint. And what is to prevent the AG from declaring sovereign immunity from suit? Answering a constitutional question has to start at the District Court Level which, in this case will likely have to be Pierre. Seems to me that nobody in State Government is going to file suit so who does it?

  11. Don Coyote 2016-03-09 00:10

    South Dakota’s “Support of Religion Prohibited” clause is hardly a sterling example of church/state separation. Failing to get his US Constitutional amendment passed through the Senate in 1876, Congressman James Blaine managed to get Congress to mandate his anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant amendment in State enabling acts, foisting a manifestly bigoted amendment on States admitted after 1876 (1876, Colorado; 1889, Montana, North & South Dakota and Washington; 1890, Idaho & Wyoming; 1896, Utah; 1907, Oklahoma; and 1912, New Mexico & Arizona). “Sectarian” in 1876 was dog-whistle politics for “Catholics”. Protestants had no problem whatsoever with using public funds to further their religious morality through reading of the King James Bible, hymn singing and the use of the McGuffey Reader with it’s stark Calvinist pov. That bigoted clause should be struck from the State constitution.

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-09 05:52

    Robbie, wrong. The intention is clear: take kids and money out of public schools and send them to private schools. That’s exactly what the fiscal note on SB 159 says will happen: 761 kids, $2,002,603 in state dollars, $1,719,708 in local funding no longer going to public school.

    Why do people keep trying to tell me things that are the opposite of reality?

    Minority/small number does not justify unconstitutional action. Article 8, Section 16 doesn’t say, “Just a little”; it says “No.”

    Yes, all of these kids are South Dakota children. We have an obligation to ensure they can get a free and fair public education. If they and their parents choose and alternative form of education, that’s fine, but that’s on their dime.

  13. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-09 05:57

    John, I’d like to think taxpayers could sue. A school district that loses money due to out-enrollment motivated by scholarships could. The fact that out-enrollment will be a small fraction of total student enrollment in public schools actually reinforces the argument against SB 159: as was pointed out in debate yesterday, if ten kids leave a district with an enrollment of 1,000, that 1% reduction doesn’t reduce class sizes enough to produce any real cost savings for the public school district that would match the money they lose in per-student allocation.

    And Don, please lower the Catholic persecution banner. The Protestants shouldn’t have been using the state to peddle their morality, either. There is no bigotry in my statement and the Constitution’s statement that we should protect churches from dependence on state money. Separation of church and state is good for church and state.

  14. Mark Winegar 2016-03-09 06:25

    Thank you for pointing out the unconstitutionality of public funding for private schools.

  15. Craig 2016-03-09 08:51

    Robbie – how can you be so wrong about bill? Cory beat me to it, but the simple reality is when you take kids out of public schools and move them to private schools, the funding formula takes money away from those public schools. It is that simple. Thus to suggest this bill “will not affect public funds” is a blatant fabrication as the bill does just that!

    As far as the bill impacting only a small number of children and where they (parents) still have to pay a majority of the tuition – how do you know? There isn’t anything in this bill which mandates limits on the scholarships, but even if there were that isn’t the point. The point is we shouldn’t be shifting public taxpayer dollars away from public schools (which we have a constitutional responsibility to fund) to private schools where the state and the taxpayer have no control over how those dollars are spent.

  16. Troy 2016-03-09 08:52


    I think you are missing the point Don is making. The Blaine Amendment wasn’t about separation of church and State. In fact, the intent and practice of the Blaine Amendment was to use the State to support mainline Protestantism vs. all other religions and non-religion

    The Blaine Amendment was primarily targeted against Catholics (use of sectarian rather than religion) but also marginalized non-mainline Christian “sects” because under the Blaine Amendment covertly acceptable mainline Protestant religion was allowed, practiced and overtly encouraged in schools via Bible classes usually once a week by a mainline Protestant minister and often a “Christian” (non-Catholic) message and prayer before school.

    When one considers its history and historical application, intent, and the subsequent Supreme Court rulings, there is a strong case/argument the Blaine Amendment is unconstitutional. In some circles, the word “sectarian” in our Constitution is as offensive as having it say “Papist” or “Romanist” as the intent is the same. The beginning of the evangelical (mostly Southern Baptist)-Catholic & Jewish-Catholic cooperation in the public square was about the Blaine Amendment.

  17. Paladn 2016-03-09 15:41

    Robbie: I certainly hope you do not teach Social Studies in any school district and, if you do, it is apparent that your evaluation does not include “knowledge of subject matter” nor is it made by an evaluator with any type of social studies background.

    I hope you feel comfortable robbing public school students of public funding.

  18. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-09 16:43

    Unseemly origin of the Blaine Amendment notwithstanding, is the effect, keeping the state from favoring religious institutions with public dollars, not a good expression of the separation of church and state?

    Good Catholic son Rep. Schoenbeck gave a good speech on the history of our constitutional provision and the legal challenges that have chipped away at it. Lee’s examples of letting the Catholic kids play ball in our gyms and share our public textbooks are notably different from subsidizing scholarships with tax credits, because tax credits are a straight-up violation of the explicit text of the amendment. When we play ball and share books, we aren’t appropriating resources (dollars!) away from the public schools to favor private schools.

    Even if you find the anti-sectarian amendments offensive, aren’t we stuck with them until someone amends the Constitution? How far does this go, Troy? Is the intent to give out these tax credits, secure a favorable ruling from the South Dakota Supreme Court, and call it good? Is the intent to get the justices to rule that the amendments don’t mean what they say? Or ultimately, will parochial school proponents go for the big enchilada, put an amendment on the ballot, strike the “Blaine Amendments,” and seek direct appropriations from the state?

  19. Troy 2016-03-09 19:12


    You ask some good questions.

    1) The credits are intended to provide tuition for education and not favor a religion (or non-religion) as all private institutions are such. Since the beneficiary is the student/parent, how does this differ from college grants that are used at religious institutions?

    2) I don’t know for sure but the books purchased by local school districts and given to private school students as there are 13,000 private school students in the state isn’t chump change

    3) With regard to your entire last paragraph, those are all questions that are above my pay grade as I’m not an attorney nor would I have any idea if anybody has any plans for anything beyond this. The only reason I gave the Blaine Amendment discussion was to reinforce what Don said. I also couldn’t resist that you were hanging your hat on something whose history was at its core discriminatory (ala the Confederate flag?) :)

    Don’t make any mistake. I fully support the priority of public education (and its articulation in the State Constitution as a responsibility of the State). I also think that the $400mm (with the tax increase) is an indication of that priority. We can argue if that is too much, too little or the right amount but it is clearly a significant priority as it is among the very top (if not the top) State expenditure.

    And, just because it is a top priority, it isn’t our only priority as the courts, roads, etc. are also major priorities plus a myriad of other priorities. The State can, should and does have the ability to multi-task.

    Finally, public education isn’t the only way the State can support education of our citizens (adult and children). We obviously do it in our post secondary schools (colleges and tech schools). We also do it in our job-training programs performed at the job-site. Do not these programs also (plus roads, courts, law enforcement, medicaid, etc.) also “compete” for dollars that aren’t available for k-12 education? This small tuition assistance for private schools too supports education.

  20. Joseph Nelson 2016-03-10 09:22

    Hmm, if only the Supreme Court could rule on school voucher issues…
    Zelman v. Simmons-Harris

  21. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-13 20:59

    Troy, thanks for your patience.

    On your first point, while the textual intent of SB 159 is to fund private education, the practical intent and effect is to fund religious education. The prime sponsor is a major O’Gorman backer. There are no secular private schools in South Dakota to receive these credit-subsidized scholarships. I believe it was Rep. Schoenbeck who slipped an made clear that true intent when he said this bill would help those immigrants who come to South Dakota and just want to educate their children in their faith.

    SB 159 differs a bit from granting the Opportunity Scholarship to private college students in that it does not directly take funding away from public K-12 schools and does not act to the detriment of a state constitutional obligation (we have an obligation to maintain free and fair public K-12 education; is there any comparable constitutional obligation to maintain universities?).

    On textbooks, per the lending required by SDCL 13-34-23: Books aren’t the same fiscal tradeoff. We order the books. They’re on hand, a sunk cost, for years. Loaning them to kids who go to O’Gorman instead of Roosevelt doesn’t cost the district a penny beyond what it would have appropriated absent O’Gorman. SB 159 takes money directly out of the K-12 budget and reduces the schools’ ability to respond to local needs.

    The Blaine Amendment may have ugly origins, rather like the U.S. Constitution itself, which exists only because we chased off a bunch of indigenous people to give ourselves room to revolt against our homeland and start a new experiment in democracy. But its effect—maintaining a solid wall between church and state—is positive for church and state.

    Education is rightly a state priority. There are many ways to provide education. But the state’s only constitutional tool for providing that education is public schools. The state can allow other delivery mechanism to exist, but the state should not fund those alternative mechanisms. Public education exists to ensure equal practical liberty and opportunity for all citizens. That’s too vital to leave to the free market, which would leave too many children behind for want of profit.

    Joseph, let’s apply Rep. Schoenbeck’s slip to Zelman, as well as the absence of real private choice. In South Dakota, you go to public school, or you go to Jesus school. South Dakota doesn’t even offer a choice of religious instruction. Roncalli, Aberdeen Christian—that’s not diversity. (We’ve got both kinds of music here, Country and Western!)

Comments are closed.