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Frerichs Veto-Day Amendment to Restore $5.95M to K-12 Funding Fails in Senate

Sen. Jason Frerichs
Senator Jason Frerichs, Democrat from Wilmot

If raising boring old regressive sales tax a half-percentage point to lift our teacher pay from 51st to 45th in the nation is being bold, then Senator Jason Freirchs is being bold italic.

Yesterday during Veto Day in the South Dakota Legislature, the Wilmot Democrat took up the challenge from Bon Homme school superintendent Mike Elsberry to suspend the rules and propose a new bill to repeal the Sly Amendment to the new education funding formula. Formally, Senator Frerichs moved (at about 49:00 in the SDPB audio archive) “that the rules be suspended for the sole purpose of introducing, giving first reading to, dispensing with committee referral, and placing on today’s calendar a bill relating to revising the definition of fall enrollment for the purpose of education funding.”

Senator Frerichs said his motion sought to rectify an “inequity” that happened on the House side with Senate Bill 131, when Rep. Jacqueline Sly successfully amended the new funding formula to take away from schools the option to base their funding on their average student enrollment from the two previous school years rather than on current fall enrollment. Senator Frerichs said the two-year averaging is important because “it smooths things out” for school districts who may not anticipate a “little hiccup” in their enrollment numbers. Senator Frerichs said that, compared to the version of the funding formula originally passed in the Senate, the Sly-amended formula takes one million dollars in new money from the Rapid City school district and $250,000 from four school districts in his own Legislative District 1. The whole point of overhauling the school funding formula, said Senator Frerichs, was to help school districts “know where they stand” and give them budgeting confidence. The Sly Amendment, said Frerichs, takes away that confidence.

Senator Corey Brown (R-23/Gettysburg) asked Senator Frerichs how much his surprise bill would cost and whether it would trigger deficit spending. Senator Frerichs said various sources pegged the cost at five to six million but that the state would have excess revenues available.

Senator Brown pounced on this weakness in the Frerichs proposal, saying that if the Senator were serious about restoring the two-year averaging option to the school funding formula, he’d have worked up numbers and brought them to other Senators earlier than “thirty seconds before we’re going to debate it on the floor.” Senator Brown acknowledged that the Sly Amendment makes budgeting harder for the schools and said it would be “absolutely appropriate” for someone to introduce the Frerichs measure next year, but he could not brook a surprise bill with no hearings.

Senator Scott Parsley (D-8/Madison), who serves on the Appropriations Committee, said a Blue Ribbon task force member had assured his committee that revenue was available to cover the pre-Sly Amendment change to target student-teacher ratios. Senator Bernie Hunhoff (D-18/Yankton) likened the frustration lawmakers might have felt yesterday over just finding out about the Frerichs proposal to the frustration  school officials felt when the Sly Amendment popped up after committee hearings, in the final House floor debate on March 8, to knock an average of over $80,000 from each of 73 school district’s coming-year budgets. Senator Hunhoff said the Frerichs proposal would simply undo the damage of a significant, surprise, ill-understood change. As for funding, Senator Hunhoff expressed confidence that the Legislature would avoid any deficit in the likely special session on Medicaid expansion or in the supplemental budget adjustments of the 2017 Session.

Senator Frerichs’s bold-italic intentions and Senator Parsley’s and Senator Hunhoff’s assurances persuaded five Republicans—Brock Greenfield, Jenna Haggar, Phil Jensen, Bruce Rampelberg, and Bill Van Gerpen—to join Frerichs and the seven other Senate Democrats—Jim Bradford, Angie Buhl O’Donnell, Troy Heinert, Hunhoff, Parsley, Jim Peterson, and Billie Sutton—in supporting this measure, which by my revised calculation would have put $5.95 million back into the new state aid to education, enough to make it theoretically possible for South Dakota to reach the new statutory target average teacher salary of $48,500. But thirteen yeas isn’t a majority, never mind the two-thirds necessary to do cool stuff like suspending the rules. Twenty Republicans, including my quitting District 3 Senator David Novstrup, told 73 school districts to sit on a tack.

Remember Senator Frerichs’s proposal, and remember Senator Brown’s comments about supporting it later. Tack some solid funding sources (reserves! GOED!) to the Frerichs proposal, and let’s be ready for the next meeting of the Legislature, whether special this year or regular next January, when one of the first items we take up should be repeal of the Sly Amendment to restore a more stable funding formula for our schools.


  1. Hank 2016-03-30 12:37

    This “on the Sly” change made a difference of over $100K in our district. We are positioned well staff wise with maybe 1/2 to many on head count per the ratio as we did the tough RIF years ago. This “Sly” change is what we have come to expect from our legislature. Anything that can be done to hamstring education and starve the districts to the point of closure or consolidation is what has been planned and executed for the last 2 decades (at least). One of the minions of Janklow (Rounds early on and others since) would introduce a bill to reduce the number of districts to 40 or sometimes 60, and then that bill would be promptly denied because closing schools means killing towns and is political suicide (like talk of income taxes). If the state wants fewer districts, these legislators need to get the strength of spine to start drawing the lines and take the hit for closing schools in towns that cannot provide a certain enrollment. Short of that, this starving of funds has just resulted in districts “Opting Out” to get the money to keep running and pass the cost to the local tax payers, and now the state wants to count budget reserves (in our district, it is all opt out money) against us when it was fiscally responsible to increase our reserves to have enough money for the inevitable funding cut or freeze that seems to come without warning. Enough of that rant, just frustrated that this year finally had hopes up and the legislature found a way to pull the rug out again. This group in Pierre needs to be changed out, top to bottom!

  2. 1254 2016-03-30 13:51

    On January 13th it was shared through statewide email that our district was to receive $372k , after the Sly amendment we get $66371. If we give that entire new monies just to certified staff that gets us to 42k ave salary far from the 48500 goal. Evidently the legislature didn’t understand the simplicity of math and how it is going to affect education going forward. The whole goal was to put more money into all teachers hands not to where some random 1 to 12 or 1 to 15 ratio efficiency worked out. If districts would have had the Sly ammendment numbers, more comment could have been made to legislators in in favor or against amendment. If you take all the schools in sd and do some statistical comparison , comparing actual teacher ratio with average target ratio. There are 2 things that JUMP out at you. SAFE counts in the 240 to 260 range as well as greater than 1000 count have a significantly higher chance to hit targeted ratios. In affect more dollars for staff. Conversely schools that have less 200 and in the 370 to 780 range have a harder time reaching targeted ratio. Also if you look at an average of the districts with over 1000 kids ( 8 schools) , a minimum average salary of $45550 can be met. Over 2000 (15 districts) kids $48772 minimium average salary . Schools with under 600 kids will average around $43000 . Lot of questions should be asked. Be nice to have some answers.. was the intent of the legislation followed. I find it hard to think our legislative and executive branch knew what they were really doing. But I guess that’s politics

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-30 13:58

    Hank, thanks for those numbers. Schools are getting less than they promised from a plan far more complicated than was necessary to meet the original goals.

    1254, that’s an interesting U-shaped curve. Why would that dip in the middle exist? Is that just bad formula, something not addressed in the math?

  4. Kathy Tyler 2016-03-30 16:31

    During the House debate on the amendment Rep. Rozum asked Rep. Sly if the amendment would change any funding to schools. The reply was ‘no.’ The discussion in the Democratic office the next day was quite different…the difference in monies had been computed. Many had been duped, and there was no change possible at that time. Thank you, Senator Frerichs for trying to correct the ‘error.’

  5. leslie 2016-03-30 22:13

    I was privileged to recently meet Bernie Hunhoff in his home court, wish him the best hiatus, and now wish to meet Frerich someday. Brown, on the other hand, on the same day confirmed that I will remember what he said on the 29th. reminds me of a tidemann/EB5 denier.

    cory, your blog seems to be correcting some of my atrocious 12th grade spelling. thx

  6. grudznick 2016-03-30 22:20

    Mr. Hunhoff is a swell enough fellow.
    Mr. Frerichs, I am told, is somewhat unremarkable.
    It is unfortunate that it is Hunhoff leaving the legislatures for sure.

  7. leslie 2016-03-30 22:43

    that was in no way an apology 2 u grudinsky/commie

  8. grudznick 2016-03-30 22:49

    What in heathen’s hell are you blathering about, Ms. leslie?

    Ms. Hubbel has a counselor that can help you center your brain waves into coherency and Mr. H knows people who can help you with your grammar and typing.

  9. leslie 2016-03-30 22:54

    eat me

    go to bed


  10. 1254 2016-03-31 20:24

    I know it’s late for this post but maybe Cory you expand on another blog. Mr Brown new exactly what the number was. A phone call and a few key strokes and it would have been available. Here is what Mr brown should have had figured. He serves by my calculation parts of at least 14 school districts. A minimium of $431311 was lost in theses districts by the passage of the Sly amendment. $51480 in his home district. Guess he didn’t know how it affected his patrons, no maybe he didn’t care. These are rural districts far away from any of the hub cities, it is absolutely essential they have significant funding so these schools can compete with their urban counterparts.

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-31 21:42

    Fair point, 1254. If Brown and colleagues had wanted to fix the problem, they could have. I can sympathize with process, but can we agree that there are times when we don’t need to wait a year to fix a problem, especially, when as 1254 says, the answers are minutes away?

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