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Mickelson: Vo-Tech Board Should Advocate for $9 Million to Lower Tuition

Contrary to concerns that Rep. Elizabeth May and I expressed, the new Board of Technical Education allowed by Amendment R and created by Senate Bill 65 won’t create a bunch of new costs by itself. However, big vo-tech board backer Rep. G. Mark Mickelson (R-13/Sioux Falls) says the new board will advocate for more money for South Dakota’s four technical institutes, perhaps to the tune of $9 million:

“I view their authority as funding advocacy for the technical institutes,” Mickelson said. “We don’t need them to tell us how to teach a class. We need them to go get us more money.”

The next step, he said, is present the funding case to the new board “and ask them to make that a priority and submit a report to the governor.”

…He estimated that reducing the South Dakota tuition and fees to about $180 per credit hour—the approximate price across the border at a technical school in Sheldon, Iowa—would take $9 million [Bob Mercer, “New Board of Technical Education Comes Amid Desire for More Funds,” Watertown Public Opinion, 2017.04.15].

$9 million—hmmm… maybe all the businesses (like the burgeoning construction industry, which enjoyed a hiring boomlet last year even as agriculture foundered) counting on the state to do their job training for them could rummage around in their office couches and come up with amount to subsidize vo-tech tuition.

Rep. Mickelson says money is short for tech-school advocacy:

“No one gets paid to think about advocating for the technical schools,” he said [Mercer, 2017.04.15].

That statement suggests Mickelson has caught a little Trump-Alzheimer’s. Dozens of businesses contributed to the Tech Schools for South Dakota pro-Amendment R campaign, which paid someone $458,000 ($5,258.47 in 2015, $22,894.77 pre-primary, $263,457.20 pre-general, $166,858.15 year-end 2016) to think about advocating for the technical schools. And this year, Republican friend Will Mortenson lobbied for the tech schools and the “Skilled Workforce Advocacy Council” to speak up for SB 65… a fact Mickelson should know, since Mickelson would have checked Morternson’s references before hiring him to lobby for Mickelson’s own campaign finance bill. (Mickelson must not have paid as well as the vo-techs; his HB 1200 failed in Senate Judiciary.)

Some quick math: if the total cost of a vo-tech degree is around $15,000, then the value of the 600 full-ride scholarships awarded in two years of the Build Dakota program is $9 million. For the same price, using Mickelson’s math, we could have reduced tuition to compete with Iowa for all 6,500 students in the vo-tech system each year.


  1. Donald Pay 2017-04-15

    I haven’t followed this so I’m still a bit behind the curve. As a former school board member, I always felt our district short-changed the “Vo-Tech,” as we called it then. I recall we voted on their budget, but it was more or less a rubber stamp. We didn’t dig in. And we didn’t virtually nothing to provide leadership or policy, except to hear a report every year. Essentially the vo-tech ran itself, but when there were certain problems that would bubble up, we listened but tried to stay out of the squabbles. So, there needed to be a way for the vo-techs to have leadership.

    Are the vo-techs still primarily dependent on local sources of income? If so, why is the Governor appointing people to the board?

  2. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-04-15

    The board in question is the new vo-tech governance board made possible by Amendment R last November and enacted by SB 65 this winter. The Governor thus now appoints members to a statewide board to govern the vo-techs just as he appoints Regents to run the universities.

  3. grudznick 2017-04-15

    Mr. Pay, I am not sure the technical institute schools get any local tax money but certainly many large bags of state tax money goes to them. I expect Mr. Mickelson will be wanting to shift this $9,000,000 from another part of the education budget like from the teachers or the colleges. If they take it from the colleges then the colleges just raise tuition to make up for it. If they take it from the teachers then they are increasing the pie eaten by the technical institute schools from that half-penny where the technical institute schools got the smallest slice. Again, just shifting the money to go away from agriculture property tax relief to the homeless housing development and from the regular teachers to the welding and shop teachers. It’s the same money so it’s probably just another discussion on policy and were should that half-penny really go. There will be those who say “if you can’t leave it be then we will take it back” and give it back to the tax payers.

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