I mentioned Speaker Steven Haugaard’s Red Scare over preschool under my friend Joe Berns’s excellent guest column. But the Speaker’s willful absurdity deserves a post of its own… and lots of questions at this weekend’s crackerbarrels of the Republicans who follow him.
House Bill 1175 was one of the passel of decent, reasonable, practical bills that this year’s Democratic rookies have brought to the Legislature. Representative Erin Healy’s (D-14/Sioux Falls) bill said, “You know what? If just round up twelve people, call ’em an ‘Early Learning Advisory Council,’ and have ’em meet four times a year to study some data on early childhood education, we can get big bucks from Uncle Sam to offer more pre-school options for all the working parents in this state.”
Spend a little money—just $14,000 from state coffers—get data and federal help, and lay the groundwork on which a future Legislature could maybe expand South Dakota’s rather meager preschool offerings. Sounds like a small step that hurts no one and ultimately might help kids and working parents, right?
Not in Speaker Haugaard’s (R-10/Sioux Falls) world. He said in House State Affairs this morning that having a council study preschool is just another Hillary Clinton scheme for socialism:
Republican Speaker of the House Steve Haugaard voted against the council. He says he’s heard the presentation making the case for pre-k education. He says the presenters were advisors to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“What it purports is that this is going to be a ‘tremendous benefit to the state,’” Haugaard says. “What it really is is a transformational approach to instilling a—more of a socialist agenda into the system.”
Haugaard says the goal of education in the state is to foster a moral society whose people understand written language enough to vote intelligently. He says it’s not to instill a performance approach to creating good workers for the state [Lee Strubinger, “State Affairs Republicans Defeat Pre-K Council Bill,” SDPB Radio, 2019.02.20].
And Haugaard wonders why people call him wacky.
Let’s take apart each statement:
Paragraph 1: Let us first observe that Hillary Clinton was not in the room at today’s hearing. But pre-K education is such superlatively good educational and economic policy that the only way Haugaard and his fellow wackies can beat it back is to raise the spectress of the Demon Hillary.
Paragraph 2: Offering more pre-K to working parents is a sneaking socialist agenda. That’s really what Speaker Haugaard said, with his sneering emphasis on “the state” in his mock quotes.
Fine. Call it socialism. It’s no more socialist than our public schools. Walk up to South Dakota parents and say, “Your public school is part of a socialist agenda, so let’s shut it down,” and 95% of those parents will say, That’s wacky.
Now walk up to South Dakota parents of preschool age kids. Tell them, “Hey, this nice lady from Sioux Falls had a plan to help you find a good, affordable preschool for your kids, but that’s socialism, so we killed that plan,” and at least 95% of those parents will not say, “O! thank you, Steve, you’re our savior!” The majority response from practical parents will be, “What were you thinking?!“
Paragraph 3: Apparently in Speaker Haugaard’s world, school isn’t even about three Rs. Forget writing and ‘rithmetic; if you can read a ballot and the Bible, good enough.
The notion that education is not supposed to create good workers for the state flies in the face of things Haugaard has voted for in the past. He voted for 2017 Senate Bill 65, which created the State Board of Technical Education to govern and promote our vo-tech schools. That board came into existence because of Amendment R, which Haugaard voted to place on the 2016 ballot. Just this Session, Haugaard has voted for bills to let the vo-techs use the state collection agency to recover debts and to foot the bill for certain veterans to take vo-tech classes.
I could spend all night pointing out the multiplicitous absurdities and contradictions in Haugaard’s “argument” against an early childhood education council—remember, Rep. Healy’s bill didn’t open one more child in any program; it just formed a council and studied the issue—but there’s the problem. Haugaard wasn’t really making an argument. He was cloaking his silly ideology in bogeyman costume to thrill his adherents and keep us from recognizing that he just got eight Republicans (including my own Rep. Drew Dennert) to vote with him against a policy that would help South Dakota children and parents.
Family values my foot. As in the past when the fundie fringe have rallied before to kill any effort to offer education to more young children, Haugaard has shown he cares more about extremist ideology than helping South Dakotans.
But we just can’t have kids getting too smart. Give every child the best education possible, and when they’re old enough to vote, they’ll all see how utterly wacky Speaker Haugaard’s comments are… and then we’d quit voting for Republicans and elect people like Hillary Clinton.