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Open Letter: Veto SB 159, Don’t Subsidize Private Schools with Public Money

I want a veto just so we can test whether the Legislature would allow Alex Jensen to cast an illegal vote on Veto Day on behalf of the district in which he no longer lives.

But I also want a veto of Senate Bill 159 because stealth vouchers are ALEC-backed corporate welfare seeking to unconstitutionally undermine public education.

Cathy Brechteslbauer agrees with me. She has sent her argument for a veto of SB 159 to Governor Dennis Daugaard; she shares that argument (with charts!) with the public here:

11 March 2016

Dear Governor Daugaard,

I am writing to ask you to veto SB159, the diversion of tax money to private schools.

1. Principally, those funds are supposed to be for the public good, not religious use.

2. Consider this: If you sign the bill, which state services are you going to cut in order to provide these scholarships to private schools?

3. Why should insurance companies get to decide the priority for these two million dollars? In any given year, the legislature and governor may see other priorities that should be addressed with public revenues, but this money will not be available.

4. Can’t insurance companies simply donate to private schools directly and be satisfied to receive charitable deductions on their federal taxes? Why should South Dakota have to give up revenue for businesses’ particular charities?

5. Some details in this bill are questionable. Note the bill’s Section 1(3)(a). Chart 1’s right-hand column shows the annual incomes that are the eligibility limits for SB159’s scholarships. The bill’s supporters claimed they just wanted “to help low-income students.” But “low income” is generally considered to mean income below 200% of poverty level (shown in Chart 2). Some of these private school scholarships could go to low-income students, but they could also legally go to families considerably above that. South Dakota’s median household income is $50,979 [ACS 2014].

Chart 1 [2015-2016 school year]

Family size Federal Pov. level Free lunch limit 130% FPL Reduced price lunch limit 185%FPL Scholarship limit in SB159 277.5%FPL
2 15,930 20,709 29,471 44,206
3 20,090 26,117 37,167 55,750
4 24,250 31,525 44,863 67,294
5 28,410 36,933 52,559 78,838
6 32,570 42,341 60,255 90,382
7 36,730 47,749 67,951 101,926
8 40,890 53,157 75,647 113,470

6. The actual imcome limit can go even higher. Note also the bill’s Section 1(3)(b). A student who receives one of these scholarships is automatically eligible the next semester, whether the family income remains below the already generous eligibility limit or not. What is to keep a school from giving a minimal scholarship to a student, and keep giving one to that student every semester, just to keep the student eligible? In that way, a scholarship could go to that student at some point, regardless of income. This situation is ripe for favoritism, if not corruption. In the bill (See its section 4.) there is no preference prescribed for the lowest income students.

Even high incomes can become eligible. We know that household incomes tend to increase at the same time children are growing. Once a student receives one of these scholarships, there is no stopping the eligibility limit. Thus, not only incomes that are already above the median, but also even high incomes could end up with scholarships. Yet, this bill was sold to legislators as a way “to help low-income students.”

7. There are other needs more pressing for public revenue. You may have several in mind, but rather than giving away revenue, consider this one. As funds become available, income eligibility for the state’s childcare assistance should be restored to the pre-2012 levels. Chart 2 shows the income limits for this assistance, both for assistance requiring co-payments and for assistance without co-payments, both before and after the 2012 cuts. These limits are much more in the income range of families that should receive state assistance, rather than scholarships based on SB159’s limits shown above and, as just pointed out above, possibly no limit at all.

Chart 2 [also using 2015-2016 school year poverty level, for comparison]

Family size

Federal Poverty Level 200% FPL was the limit for childcare assistance with co-payment before 2012 175% FPL is the limit for childcare assistance with co-payment after the 2012 cuts 105% FPL, was the limit for childcare assistance with no co-payment before 2012 100% FPL, is the limit for childcare assistance with no co-payment after the 2012 cuts
2 15,930 31,860 27,877 16,726 15,930
3 20,090 40,180 35,157 21,094 20,090
4 24,250 48,500 42,437 25,462 24,250
5 28,410 56,820 49,717 29,830 28,410
6 32,570 65,140 56,997 34,198 32,570
7 36,730 73,460 64,277 38,566 36,730
8 40,890 81,780 71,557 42,934 40,890

The great promise of welfare reform, that has helped so much, was that parents who go out and get employment will be supported with assistance that helps make work pay and makes work life more affordable. Budget cuts may have been needed in 2012, but when we have revenue now, can’t the assistance for our lowest-wage workers be restored? Childcare eats up a severely large portion of income for low-wage workers and even low-middle-income workers. This is especially so in our one-breadwinner families, the very parents trying to avoid or get off welfare programs.

Please, Governor, this public money should not be going to private schools. The state should deter-mine how public revenue should be used. When funds are available, please restore the childcare assistance for our low-wage workers. In the lives of our state’s children, this childcare assistance would mean less chaos and deprivation, two factors that do not bode well for children’s futures.

Thank you for considering this veto request and this funding request when funds are available.


Cathy Brechtelsbauer
2900 Poplar Dr, Sioux Falls 57105. 605-335-6222

Brechtelsbauer mentions the possibility of corruption in this private-school subsidy. Brechtelsbauer says she wouldn’t expect corruption in private schools, but sad things have happened in South Dakota.

Governor Daugaard, you’ve already vetoed one bill that would have dragged the state into court. Spare us another round of unnecessary lawsuits. Veto SB 159.


  1. C Brechtelsbauer 2016-03-14 07:44

    If you share any of these concerns, please contact Governor Daugaard ASAP. He has only a few days to decide.
    Call 605-773-3212
    Email at
    Fax 605-773-4711

  2. Joan Thomson 2016-03-14 11:18

    Stop privatizing everything.

  3. O 2016-03-14 14:17

    The Governor has apparently asked for a Supreme Court ruling on 159. That seems smart – to decide the constitutionality before adoption (after which challenges will be far more expensive).

    Are checks and balances actually WORKING in SD?

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-14 14:35

    But he’s also asked for a Supreme Court ruling on SB 136, the grassy buffer strips bill. Interesting tandem… about which I need to read and blog!

    By the way, being able to ask the Supreme Court for an opinion is a really cool gubernatorial power. I want to do that!

  5. mike from iowa 2016-03-14 15:56

    If you had a supreme court that was not handpicked to be wienies,he wouldn’t have to ask for a ruling on giving public monies to private schools. The constitution is quite clear on that point. It is unconstitutional to do so. An activist court might well allow it and pull a goofy reason out of their butts.

  6. Tim 2016-03-14 17:48

    Does the legislature keep doing this stuff to justify Jackleys salary?

  7. leslie 2016-03-15 18:03

    cory, rich people, corporations do this everyday, calling their lawyer. justice is not for “all” though we ALL finance the justice system. It is financially inaccessible to most and those in the know take advantage of it all day everyday. same as medical care. a lot, too, like the military the rich and corporations hide behind.

    jackley’s salary is so he can direct 100 state paid lawyers to support republican causes at state expense.

  8. Rough Rider 2016-03-25 16:21

    What happened to separation of Church and State? Why are we (the taxpayers of SD) funding Private Education?

  9. leslie 2016-03-31 00:54

    “As we have seen again and again, the corporate education industry is eager to break into U.S. public education and turn it into a free marketplace, where they can monetize the schools and be assured of government subsidization. On the whole, these privatized institutions do not produce higher test scores than regular public schools, except for those that cherry-pick their students and exclude the neediest and lowest performing students. The promotion of privatization by philanthropies, by the U.S. Department of Education, by right-wing governors (and a few Democratic governors like Cuomo of New York and Malloy of Connecticut), by the hedge fund industry, and by a burgeoning education equities industry poses a danger to our democracy. In some communities, public schools verge on bankruptcy as charters drain their resources and their best students.” huffpo

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