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No Money for Stealth Voucher Program Yet

I’ve been calling Senator Phyllis Heineman’s (R-13/Sioux Falls) self-serving “tax-credit scholarships” stealth vouchers since she first floated the plan in the 2015 Legislature. Now that Heineman’s school-privatization handout to church schools and insurance companies is law, the press isn’t even calling them stealthy; in Megan Raposa’s reporting, they’re plain vouchers… and so far, they have no money:

Dozens of families statewide have expressed interest in vouchers since the application became available Monday. With no contributions, though, the state group tasked with doling out funds doesn’t have answers for parents wondering how much money, if any, they can expect [Megan Raposa, “No Money, Few Answers for Private School Vouchers,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2016.08.02].

Let’s not dance on the grave of this educationally destructive program yet. The law took effect July 1, so the lumbering corporate giants of insurance—the only industry sector allowed to take part in this state subsidy—may need more than a month to put their voucher plan to undermine public education into effect. But given how fast the good neighbors at State Farm pop up at accidents in the commercials, I’d think they’d have found a way to have money in the chute for stealth vouchers faster than appears to be the case.

Senator Heineman tells Raposa she remains “very hopeful” that her husband needy kids will be able to cash in on public dollars for religious education this fall.

Bonus Notes:

  1. Sen. Heineman sits on the board of South Dakota Partners in Education, the non-profit formed to administer the stealth vouchers. Also helping undermine public education: Rep. Brian Gosch (R/32-Rapid City), Great Plains Lutheran superintendent Eric Brown, attorney and Sioux Falls Catholic Schools board member Dan Fritz, director of Sioux Falls Diocese Catholic Schools Katie Mellor, attorney and Sioux Falls Christian Schools board member Scott Perrenoud, and Rapid City Catholic Schools development director Robert Satter.
  2. SDPE’s online application for the Heineman stealth vouchers lists the income guidelines for eligibility. The SDPE chart lists the maximum income for a single-member household to qualify for a church school voucher is $32,663. I’m trying to figure out how many single-member households have kids to send to O’Gorman.
  3. SDPE lists 37 schools qualified to accept the Heineman stealth vouchers. All 37 are Christian schools, meaning Heineman’s stealth voucher program excludes families seeking Muslim, Jewish, or secular education. As SDEA president Mary McCorkle reminded us in June, “Our public schools are the great equalizer, the provider of opportunity for all our students.”


  1. Donald Pay 2016-08-04

    Just another opportunity for corruption and vote buying. That’s the history in Wisconsin.

    The voucher system in Wisconsin has been a disaster for a couple decades. No one is talking anymore about how vouchers are “educational reform” meant to help students. That lie has been punctured by numerous studies.

    Originally meant for low-income students wanting to escape poorly performing public schools, it is now just a way for Republicans to funnel money to private and parochial schools at the expensive of inner city schools. The income caps on families receiving state vouchers have been gradually raised so more of the well-heeled can steal money from really poor students to send their children to the so-called “religious” schools. No one is pretending anymore that black kids get to go to these schools and escape bad schools in the inner city. This is all about buying votes of people already sending their lilly white kids to parochial schools.

    Stealing money from the poor to give to the rich is what Jesus taught us. But that’s the Republican way: fake Christianity funneling money to fake Christian schools.

  2. Troy Jones 2016-08-04

    If a voluntary donation to a charity by private businesses is “vote buying,” I’m sure you apply the same standard to non-voluntary donations by private businesses and individuals as “vote buying” as well.

    Glad to have you on board to shrinking the size and scope of our government.

    Frankly Don, I expect better from you.

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-08-04

    “non-voluntary donations”? Troy, please clarify.

    Donald fairly describes the practical impact of vouchers in undermining public education. That’s why we need to overturn the Heineman stealth vouchers law in the 2017 Session.

  4. Rorschach 2016-08-04

    Non-voluntary donations is what the rest of us are doing when we buy insurance and pay the premium tax and then the state unconstitutionally spends our money on private religious schools.

  5. Rorschach 2016-08-04

    Troy, where’s all the love for your presidential nominee? Bueller? Bueller?

  6. Jenny 2016-08-04

    Good article, Cory and I agree with Pay’s comments. Private schools use vouchers to help keep their budgets afloat, not to help disadvantaged kids.
    Actually, the private schools don’t even want disadvantaged kids in their school as it comes with a whole set of difficult problems to deal with and they don’t have the services to adequately help them in the first place. Psychologist and social workers are needed to help these kids, not god being pushed down their throats.

  7. Mark Winegar 2016-08-04

    Public funds ought not to be used for private organizations including schools.

  8. Troy Jones 2016-08-08

    Jenny, there is nothing you wrote which is applicable to the largest private school system in South Dakota (Sioux Falls Catholic Schools).

    1) Tuition covers roughly 40% of the cost of attending SFCS. The rest is covered by donations.

    2) The budget of SFCS gets no dollars from vouchers.

    3) My parish school has roughly 30% of its student body people who have parents who are immigrants of Mexican, Sudanese, and Burmese heritage for whom significant effort is made every year to raise the money to cover the differential between the already subsidized tuition and what these families can afford (many of whom attend for free). Your assertion “private schools don’t even want disadvantaged kids in their school” is patently false.

    4) Every year the gap between what we can raise for tuition assistance and the demand results in some students being unable to attend SFCS. The use of these funds will be used to enhance our ability to meet the desires of more parents for their children who can’t afford tuition.

    5) While we have a cadre of professional counselors, specialized service providers (e.g. speech or occupational therapy) when needed by students, I am curious why you think being “disadvantaged” also means these kids are inherently in need of psychologists and social workers. They aren’t sick. Just poor.

    6) If parents of these “disadvantaged kids” desire their children being educated in a faith-based environment, why are you so disrespectful of their desires? What makes you think you love their children more than these parents do and thus better able to determine what is best for them?


    Not a single dollar of public funds will be used for this purpose. Private insurance companies will be able to make a donation and receive a tax credit equal to their donation. Its pretty comparable to those who get tax credits for investing in wind farms.

  9. Craig 2016-08-08

    Semantics Troy. When someone gets a tax credit, it means they will pay less taxes. This means fewer dollars in the public coffers and more dollars diverted into the accounts of the private schools. So yes this bill does effectively divert tax money into private schools, and since some of them are faith-based schools and they couldn’t find a way to fund them directly, this was a clever run-around.

    As far as “disadvantaged” kids, I agree that some of those kids aren’t sick and they are just poor. But one has to admit private schools have an advantage in that they don’t have to take the sick kids. They don’t have to take the kids with learning disabilities or the special needs kids. They may choose to, but at the end of the day they are private schools and get to pick and choose which kids are part of their roster. Public schools have no such choice, so when we take money out of the tax system and divert it to private schools we are taking money away from those kids who are most vulnerable.

    If someone wishes to donate to a private school they should be able to with no restrictions, but they shouldn’t need a tax credit to do so. That isn’t a donation – it is a diversion.

  10. Jenny 2016-08-08

    Ask anyone of those socialist nuns and they would absolutely agree with me about poor single parents families having an increased risk to getting mental illness, Troy.
    In my town in MN I’ve been told that the private schools don’t have enough social services available in their schools.

    The nuns in your beloved Catholic church would agree with me and say there is a direct correlation between poverty and mental illness and juvenile delinquency. So would the CDC above.

  11. Troy Jones 2016-08-08


    I never denied or agreed whether kids with “poor singe parents” (why are you using this term and not disadvantaged?) have increased risk to getting mental illness or juvenile delinquency because it isn’t my area of expertise or relevant.

    Unless you believe ever kid from a lower economic segment is inherently mentally ill and in need of therapy, not every kid from economically poor families needs specialized psychologists and social workers. They just need the best place for them to learn and, personally, I think the parents are more capable of deciding the best place for THEIR child than you or anyone else.

  12. Craig 2016-08-08

    Troy: “personally, I think the parents are more capable of deciding the best place for THEIR child than you or anyone else.”

    This is the precise line of reasoning that leads many parents to home school their children even though the parent has zero training in education and in some cases didn’t even graduate high school themselves.

    It is also the same line of reasoning that leads some parents to withhold medical treatment for their children – because they feel they know best.

    Parents don’t always know best. I’ll take a qualified panel of educators, scholars, and administrators with doctorates in education, social work, and child psychology against a few parents any day of the week.

  13. Troy Jones 2016-08-08


    Thanks for your comments. Every now and then I appreciate confirmation why I’m a small government conservative and support private schools and parents who choose to home school.

  14. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-08-08

    As Craig said, semantics! The net effect of SB 159 is to raid the public coffers to pay for private religious education. Bonk on that!

  15. Craig 2016-08-09

    Sorry Troy, but reality has proven many parents are simply not qualified to decide what is best for their children.

    How many stories have we read where parents refused to provide medical treatment for their child because they felt they could “pray it away”? How many stories have we read about where some new-age parents decided their infant could survive on a vegan diet void of the nutrients required for survival? I’ve seen many instances where kids died because parents failed them.

    Do these parents really know best? Nope.

    In terms of education, we see many failures of home school kids as well. I have one in my own family. A woman who had zero post-secondary education decided she was in the best position to educate her child. The child is now 22 or 23, still living at home, no career, no skills, no life outside of his bedroom and video game consoles, and no chance at ever obtaining any form of higher education. They claim he passed his GED exam but I’m not entirely convinced. If I’m blunt, he has the mental capacity of a 11 year old and the social skills of a pop tart. They make excuses and claim he has everything from ADHD or mild autism, but it seems a more logical conclusion is that his parents failed him.

    I see it all the time – many times parents keep their kids home not because they feel they can do a better job, but because they don’t want the children to learn about those ‘crazy liberal ideas’ like evolution, geology, psychology, biology, or sex education. Some of these kids will turn out ok – many will not.

    This isn’t to say that there aren’t a lot of great home schooling experiences and a lot of parents who care and do the best for their children. Some parents are great at it, some even excel at it. Some parents ARE in the best position to know what is best for their children… but some parents aren’t equipped to make such decisions. It just so happens that much of the time, religion is what drives these parents to make bad decisions. We can’t pretend it doesn’t happen, so making blanket statements such as “parents know best” is ignorant.

    If parents know best, they can do it on heir own with no need for the diversion of tax dollars.

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