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Aberdeen Private Schools Cheer Stealth Vouchers, Unwittingly Back ALEC Privatization Agenda

During floor debate on Senate Bill 159, Senator Phyllis Heineman’s make-my-hubby-richer stealth vouchers bill, Rep. Lee Schoenbeck (R-5/Watertown) said that the Governor’s teacher-pay-raise plan would force private schools to up their salaries, thus implying that the state should disregard its constitution and give private schools money to pay their teachers more.

Aberdeen’s private schools are saying the public school pay raises will pressure them to raise their teacher pay. According to Katherine Grandstrand in today’s Aberdeen American News, the Aberdeen Catholic Schools, which pay an average $34K compared to the Aberdeen public schools’ $42K, and Aberdeen Christian School, which pays less and offers no insurance or pension, share Schoenbeck’s worry that they’ll have to raise pay and tuition to compete.

And boy, do they like the idea of the state subsidizing their tuition:

“It’s a step in the right direction for school choice,” [Aberdeen Christian superintendent Eric] Kline said.

The bill has been approved by both the House and Senate, so its fate now lies in Daugaard’s hands.

Provisions in the measure would help families who can’t afford tuition for a religious education, [Aberdeen Catholic School System president Jeff] Simmons said. The bill would also help families who make sacrifices to prioritize a religious education, he said.

“It’s huge,” Simmons said. “Hopefully it will draw a few people out who can’t afford (to pay for) their children to come here” [Katherine Grandstrand, “Aberdeen-Area Private Schools Face Pay Challenge,” Aberdeen American News, 2016.03.11].

A step in the right direction… that’s what ALEC and its corporate vultures who want to privatize education think, too:

The ALEC Great Schools Tax Credit Act seeks to bypass this separation of church-and-state issue by offering a form of private school tuition tax credits that indirectly funnel taxpayer dollars to these institutions.

In contrast with basic vouchers, where the state directly reimburses a private or religious school for tuition costs, these “tuition tax credit” proposals—sometimes called neo-vouchers—instead offer tax credits to individuals and corporations who donate to a nonprofit “school tuition organization.” The nonprofit then pays for a student’s tuition.

The “donation” is really just a way for individuals and corporations to bypass state legislatures and the state budgeting process and reroute tax revenue relied upon by the state to private schools [Brendan Fischer, “Cashing in on Kids: 172 ALEC Education Bills Push Privatization in 2015,” Common Dreams, 2016.03.10].

ALEC wants to crush teacher unions and public schools and turn education into one more profit center. If Governor Dennis Daugaard signs Senate Bill 159, South Dakota will help ALEC toward that nefarious end.

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By the way, how do private schools get rich parents to pay extra money for education they could get for free yet still manage to pay their teachers less than public schools? Don’t be fooled into thinking low private-school pay is proof that public school teachers are overpaid. The wage gap is merely market forces at work. Since private-school teachers don’t need licenses, private schools can tap a larger labor pool—more supply means lower prices.

The wage gap also results from some private-school perks for teachers:

Class sizes are smaller—a 12:1 student-to-teacher ratio, compared with 16:1 at public schools. There’s also less red tape—private teachers answer to principals and parents, rather than to principals, parents, and three meddling levels of government. And the families at private schools are, quite literally, invested in education. A national survey of teachers, asking them about the problems their schools face, paints a vivid contrast:


Whereas many public school teachers spend their days leaping over hurdles, private school teachers actually get to—just imagine!—teach. This explains why they’re twice as likely to hold Ph.D.s, despite earning $6,500 less per year than Ph.D.s at public schools. It also explains why 21 percent of private school teachers have two decades or more of experience—virtually the same ratio as in public schools. They stay because they enjoy the work [Ben Orlin, “Why Are Private-School Teachers Paid Less Than Public-School Teachers?The Atlantic, 2013.10.24].

Since private schools tap a different market and offer a different work environment, private schools may not have to match South Dakota’s public-school raises dollar for dollar to fill their teaching slots. And with those advantages, they don’t need help from the state. South Dakota’s private schools should look to their own resources, not to mention their good Christian spirit, to pay their teachers what they are worth.


  1. mike from iowa 2016-03-11 10:10

    Pass a bill that says korporate amerika (koch bros) can pay for private schools w/o tax breaks. Put your money where your mouth is. Are you truly benevolent,or just greedy?

  2. Troy 2016-03-11 10:41

    Thanks Cory,

    It was an outstanding pro-private school tuition scholarship piece. In short, your strongest statement was private schools have: Less physical conflicts, less abuse and disrespect of teachers, apathy, etc.: Why shouldn’t poor families have greater access to this?

    You would better serve the public good if you shed your bias and shades of visceral anti-private schools and over-the-top teacher union mentality and look at everything ground up (starting with students) instead of top down (teachers as member of a union perspective).

    Your conspiracy theory about crushing public schools and public school teachers is balderdash. There were more legislators (25 or 26) who voted for both the tax increase and the tuition assistance bills which is a majority (60%) of the support of both bills. Whether it be pursuing and imprisoning child sex offenders, tuition assistance, or swimming pools, there is a lot of things we can do for kids besides public education, especially when pro-public education is measured only by what is done for or to teachers. Your quick reaction to the suicide certification requirements shows you see everything like a union steward reacts (a matter of collective bargaining) rather than serving the interest of children.

  3. Mike J 2016-03-11 10:42

    Maybe the private schools should stop spending so much on sports programs and pay their teachers with that. I watched Wednesday morning on the news out of Rapid City when the St Thomas More Girls team was getting ready to go to the state tournament. The bus they had was about as nice as some professional sports teams. I don’t know, maybe those buses are cheaper than regular school buses, but I doubt it.

  4. Dave 2016-03-11 10:51

    Fred Deutsch will probably go after public schools again next year with a goofy transgender bathroom bill, so that’s another feather you can put in your cap, Troy, to convince students to transfer from public schools to private schools, thus depriving public schools state aid to education funding which helps in your goal of damaging state-supported K-12 institutions. Why do you think it’s ok to help and simultaneously inflict harm on institutions that serve the broadest demographic of South Dakota youth, Troy?

  5. Dave 2016-03-11 10:52

    *Why do you think …*

  6. Bill Dithmer 2016-03-11 11:55

    Private schools should never be allowed to compete in any state sanctioned event ever. These schools are nothing but poachers of perfect students. STM is the equivalent of an STD to the public school system.

    There, am I clear as to how much I dislike private schools hanging from the public tit?

    You shouldnt get to play on both sides of the money fence.

    The Blindman

  7. mike from iowa 2016-03-11 13:57

    Dakota’s private schools are part and parcel of wingnut strategy to privatize gubmint functions,regardless of the constitution.

  8. Craig 2016-03-11 14:29

    Troy: “private schools have: Less physical conflicts, less abuse and disrespect of teachers, apathy, etc.:”

    There you go again Troy – ignoring the root cause of differences between public and private schools. Your private schools don’t have to take any and all students… just the ones who can pay the tuition or those that are lucky enough to earn a scholarship. That means you are much less likely to get as many poor kids. Much less likely to get kids with behavior issues. Much less likely to get kids with developmental disorders, kids that have moved to five different cities in the past three years, kids which have previously been expelled from another school, elementary age students who go home to a single parent or those who spent the prior weekend in a shelter.

    It is intellectually dishonest to try and suggest private schools are somehow better at educating students or better at handling behavioral issues when we all know the real reason isn’t because of how they teach… it is because of WHO they are teaching. If you let the Sioux Falls school district run around and cherry pick students from the various schools and put them in one “special” school you would have the same result.

  9. Troy 2016-03-11 15:10

    I said none of what you assert (better) but those attributes are “better.” I just used the information Cory provided and used it selectively as he did to make a point.

  10. O 2016-03-11 15:19

    Can I have my insurance company fund (and by “fund” I mean be reimbursed by the state) sending ALL the kids who struggle (academically and behaviorally) in public schools to private schools? Will that change which system is seen as more “effective” then?

    Do the private schools have to take ANY and ALL the newly scholarships children who apply? Is there a welcome-all policy in private schools (if the check clears)?

  11. Jenny 2016-03-11 15:24

    Cory, that MN tax credit for private schools I was talking about the other day. I want to clarify, MN gives a tax credit to 30% of a private school’s tuition only, not all of the tuition.

  12. Jenny 2016-03-11 15:28

    I don’t know what Troy is talking about but I went to a private Catholic school for one year in Rapid City, and trust me, they had the same bullying problems as public schools. Maybe even worse. The wealthier kids know that they have it better than the poorer kids and they let you know.
    If you have a big Catholic last name that has donated big through the years there is favoritism and the nuns look the other way when the rich boy is the biggest bully of all.

  13. Jenny 2016-03-11 15:36

    My first school fight I saw was in the private Catholi cschool cafeteria I went to.

  14. Roger Cornelius 2016-03-11 18:25

    What happened to the “private” in private schools?
    If private schools expect any state or federal in any form, they should be required to publish all of their financial information on how our money is being spent. Public schools are required to publish minutes and their financials, why should private schools be exempt?

  15. Tim 2016-03-11 18:41

    What if I don’t want my tax dollars funding private schools? Maybe God should pay the tuition, based on all the churches being built or remodeled these days God seems to be swimming in cash.

  16. grudznick 2016-03-11 18:44

    Mr. Tim, the churches and cults should be taxed to pick up the entire tab. Since there is no god, he can’t pay with cash.

  17. Jenny 2016-03-11 19:33

    Exactly, Roger. I though private schools were just that, private.
    Religious churches and schools should pay taxes since they love to get their big butts into politics all the time. You should have been in MN the year gay marriage was being debated in the legislature and then put up for a public vote. The Catholic dioceses spent millions in voter persuasion to try get voters to vote yes – which was to have marriage stay only between a man and woman.
    They spent millions and if nobody believes me just go look it up. The Catholic dioceses even sent out mean videos on preaching about how gay marriage is bad and that you must vote yes!
    This very mean-spirited display of being against gay marriage and then sex scandal after sex scandal of priests and their perversion for altar boys was really the final straw in what made me turn against Catholicism.

  18. Darin Larson 2016-03-12 08:55

    This is headed for a lawsuit, but wingnuts only hate lawyers when the lawyers aren’t fighting on behalf of wingnut cultural crusades. Since the pie is only so big, as I’ve been told by legislators, public education’s underfunded status in SD is exacerbated by subsidizing private school education and then paying lawyers to defend the lawsuits to follow.

    Cory, I would like to know how much the state is spending every year on lawsuits and on what cases. If we can’t get the information for ongoing cases under a freedom of information request, we should be able to get the amounts after the case is completed.

  19. Ben Cerwinske 2016-03-12 18:15

    I love the idea of public school (I work in one). However, I question the wisdom of compulsory education. Free education for everyone that wants it is different from free education for everyone whether they want it or not.

    While Cory made many accurate points, I think Troy accurately pointed out those points didn’t necessarily paint a good picture of public education.

    Case in point: “private school teachers actually get to—just imagine!—teach.” So if public school teachers can’t just teach, how can public school students just learn? If students can’t just learn, then why would parents want to send their children there (especially poorer families who are trying hard to give their children better opportunities)?

  20. mike from iowa 2016-03-12 20:15

    Ever notice how wingnuts start ridiculously regulating gubmint programs they want to privatize. Take public schools for instance. They made it ridiculously easy for public schools to get failing grades so kids could be transferred en masse to private,for profit schools. dumbass dubya did this in Texas and then foisted that disaster on America. Public schools were hardly a major problem until wingnuts set about trying to fix what wasn’t broken.

  21. grudznick 2016-03-12 21:48

    Mike, I know you are from Iowa, but here in South Dakota we have one of the finest public school systems in the nation. And I, for one, would like to shut down the parochial schools.

  22. mike from iowa 2016-03-13 08:09

    Grudz-what is stopping you from shutting them down? Can’t you blink or wiggle your nose,or something?

  23. Les 2016-03-13 19:55

    What if our public education was changed to put your students in front studies they tested into, Ben Cerwinske? Fit them into trades or higher Ed to oversimplify my thoughts. Many of our students are extremely self motivated when you hit their nitch. Wouldn’t it be fun to teach excited kids with a great appetite for knowledge in these different fields whatever they might be, Ben?

  24. Les 2016-03-13 20:06

    I will add my son who was not at all motivated in high school got heavily involved in all the trades they had to offer. That involvement somehow created some self motivation in his other studies and he went on to do well in college. That surprised me as I counted on him following in my biz. No way was he going to work as hard as he witnessed his father doing with his hands.

    Educating our youth is a complex situation. Our schools cannot keep doing the same thing hoping for different results and expect taxpayers to open their pockets for more of the same.

  25. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-13 21:08

    Clever, Troy, but Craig aptly points out the speciousness of your argument. Private schools offer an easier work environment because they have an easier mission: pick the kids who can afford school, reject the poor and the hard cases.

    I do agree with Ben that the teaching side is an advantage for private schools… one that the public schools could easily adopt by dropping Common Core and other bureaucracy and letting teachers teach. Again, the solution is not to give public money to private schools; the solution is to make public schools better.

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