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Wacky: Voting Against Studying Early Education Because Pre-K Is Socialism

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:

Steven Haugaard

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.


  1. John Sweet 2019-02-20 21:28

    It’s days like this that make me glad I no longer live in South Dakota and have to live with this ridiculous kind of thinking that politicizes good educational initiatives that are proven to help students.

  2. Kal Lis 2019-02-20 21:53

    Four questions come to mind.

    First, can Haugaard define socialism?

    Second, is he aware that there has been a “public” element to education in the United States since the Northwest Ordinances set aside one section of land in each township for the purposes of education?

    Third, is the “moral society” that Haugaard claims “education in the state is to foster” based on deontological, consequentialist, or virtue based principles?

    Finally, can Haugaard explain how each school of thought differs and what an education system prioritizing each would emphasize?

  3. grudznick 2019-02-20 22:32

    This Haugaard fellow is an over-godder from the get-go. He’s the one that legislates underwear rules and such. Many do point out that his best attribute is his coif, which is comparable to some of the best low-end porn stars out there. Ironic, isn’t it?

  4. John Kennedy Claussen, Sr., 2019-02-20 22:39

    Why should we expect a Speaker, who tries to quiet a lobbyist’s freedom of speech and right to petition one’s government, to understand what public education is all about? Which is to develop a person to their greatest potential.

    Our current Speaker somehow believes that limits to one’s enlightment will somehow offer a better government….. Or, is that just a good enough one as far as he is concerned?

    Perhaps in a “good enough one,” Speakers get away with limiting or denying one’s freedom of speech and right to petition one’s government, and that is the world – socialist or not – that he so wishes apparently.

    Often socialism, which is not communism, is hinted by some to be totalitarianism in and of itself, but is not totalitarianism more a friend of those who do not cherish our basic freedoms like speech and petition, which our current Speaker does not appear to care for?

    I am afraid that the Speaker’s comments have only further proven Hillary right about a village, but the village which our Speaker roams in is not a village of brilliance, rather one of idoits instead; which explains the current outcome from that village, but a village which should actually yearn for a knowledge greater than just “good enough,” if given a chance, don’t you think?

  5. Roger Cornelius 2019-02-20 23:03

    Like abortion and the 2nd Amendment republicans in this state use socialism to scare the pants off ignorant uneducated South Dakotans. Trump’s uneducated automatically see Hitler and socialism as one in the same.
    Like Kal Lis, I’d like to know if Hauggard knows the meaning of socialism.
    Voters had better start learning the meaning of socialism since it will be a large part of our political disucssion in 2019 – 2020 politics.
    The youthful Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez of New York is leading a charge in Washington, D.C. that has gotten the attention of D.C. with her socialistic agenda and aggressive tax rates for the wealthy.
    South Dakota republicans and Hauggard in particular had better educate themselves on democratic socialism because it will be a part of our political dialogue this election cycle.

  6. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-02-21 07:10

    Excellent questions, Kal Lis. We need a public affairs program hosted by educators in which we would sit Speaker Haugaard and other legislators down, one at a time, and ask questions just like that. It would be an hour-long format, with time to follow up on questions and demand real analysis of the tropes and slogans they pass off as sufficient responses in other venues.

  7. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-02-21 07:12

    Roger and Kal Lis, Haugaard’s use of the term “socialism” is empty. He does not mean to offer any analysis of the term; he uses it strictly as a dog whistle, with about the same intelligence and morality as the bully who cries “Faggot!” at another child with no notion of homosexuality but merely an awareness that the word is perceived as an insult and can be used to hurt and marginalize others.

  8. o 2019-02-21 08:41

    I believe the speaker means to say “social indoctrination” and even then his point more so is that it is not “his” social indoctrination. Sesame Street gets the same attack:

    I understand the fear of “socialism” to the 1% – those who have broken the “free markets” for their own gain. They are also not the ones I hear complaining about “socialism” when it involves publicly funded government bailouts for their banks, large industry or farms.

  9. Donald Pay 2019-02-21 09:50

    Why bash socialism? South Dakota is a socialist paradise. South Dakota couldn’t exist without socialism. The state government can’t pay its own way without without the money provided by federal socialism. It doesn’t tax its own wealthy so that it can draw more socialist aid from the federal government. Don’t like socialism and sucking off the federal teat? Blame your deadbeat and socialist Legislature.

    Road building is a socialist endeavor, but think where all that revenue that socialism provides goes. Lots of people employed, sure, but that socialism makes millionaires out of the owners of construction businesses. But a lot of that socialist money gets recycled to the Republican socialists, so that socialism is fine. Children, of course, would get an early start on reading, and how does that help the Republican parasite class?

    The Black Hills National Forest provides socialist trees to loggers, socialist gold to miners, and socialist recreational activities that draw tourists to numerous hotels, eateries and tourist traps. South Dakota’s biggest river is a socialist engineering project. Farming in South Dakota is largely underwritten by socialist farm programs. Ethanol production and corn prices: largely dependent on socialist policies.

    Republican support for socialist irrigation projects are well-documented in South Dakota history. Water delivered through rural water systems and city water systems: socialist.

    Let’s not forget the socialist Cement Plant and the socialist railroad, now privatized.

  10. Jenny 2019-02-21 10:07

    South Dakotans want to think they are independent, Donald. With SD Repubs, they have a very love-hate, passive-aggressive relationship with the Federal Govt.
    Deep down they would never admit that they need the Fed Help.

  11. Porter Lansing 2019-02-21 11:02

    In SD, Martin Luther King Jr.’s words ring true and clear. The wealthy and powerful are offered socialism the poor and powerless are expected to be ruggedly independent.

  12. o 2019-02-21 11:18

    This also reminds me of the “You didn’t build that . . .” discussion/rant/misrepresentation. Again, so many want to believe it is ONLY the power of their singular initiative and will that has given them the things they enjoy, and to label “socialists” as leaches who only exist because of the support of others.

  13. o 2019-02-21 11:34

    Pure speculation: could some of the push back be because much of pre-K is private, even non-secular/religious? I could see fear of peeking behind the curtain of social indoctrination that exists now – or of having all that come under the evaluation paradigm of educationally sound.

  14. Liz 2019-02-21 12:04

    Your lack of knowledge concerning our education system is blatantly obvious after reading this post. Knowing how taking federal dollars ties your hands with requirements, not to mention adding a beauracracy that requires a payment (might I add that never shrinks) and then expecting school systems to implement federal requirements because of it, shows you the relevance of Haugaard’s comments. You try to speak with some knowledge of the education system, but show just how little you understand. Parents overwhelmingly are against this increase in testing/studies of our children. And why does it increasingly fall to the education system, because a parent is “working”. Children are amazingly intelligent and able to over come and erase any minimal ability of those who have pre-k schooling. And yet if you look at the downfall of what is happening to our education system with more desk time and school days it is easy to see a more depressed unhappy society who missed out on the joys of unstructured play time.

  15. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-02-21 12:36

    O, I think your speculation has some basis. The fundies get a chance to bring a lot of little children into church preschools; they’d hate to lose both that proselytizing opportunity and that revenue stream to a public option.

  16. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-02-21 12:38

    Donald and Jenny, I dig the history and psychology there: we’re self-reliant! we’re rugged individualists! but we exist and subsist thanks to government and socialism!

    We aren’t the tough guys we think we are. People like Haugaard aren’t man enough to admit that social and historical fact (as if being “man enough” is the only measure of merit—sorry, latent sexism).

  17. Jenny 2019-02-21 12:46

    Who elects these people!!! Who on earth would elect someone as narrow-minded as Haugaard?
    Preschool is not ‘socialist’ indoctrination!
    Noem would say this too. You bet she would.

  18. Geniva 2019-02-21 13:29

    This is such twisted thinking. No wonder we continue to fall behind other countries in our educational results. We do not start soon enough.
    The YMCA is interested in starting such a program and has the stats and research.

  19. Donald Pay 2019-02-21 13:31

    When the RC school board contemplated pre-K issues in 2000, one issue that came up was that the pre-k programs would poach the least costly kids out of day care, whether it was family-based, church-based or center-based. This would make day care more costly for infants to 4 year olds.

    In Madison, WI, this issue was worked out by bringing day care centers into the pre-K system. It’s kind of a hybrid system, with day care workers in the pre-K program getting more training.

  20. Donald Pay 2019-02-21 13:35

    My own belief at the time was that early childhood education needed to focus on the at-risk kids, rather than go to universal pre-K. I’m not sure how I feel about it now, but it would be worth studying.

  21. John Robbins 2019-02-21 19:57

    I originally posted this on my facebook page: Somehow I am not surprised at this outcome. I see people (to call them legislators is stretching it a bit) spend time and energy on support for a wall instead of addressing the needs of the citizens of South Dakota. I can only view this rejection as affirmation in my mind that those people would rather have ill educated citizens who will follow the false rhetoric instead of thinking for themselves.

    One of the most valuable legacies we can leave for our children is the ability to think. This means that they need to question when something is proposed that appears to go against the will of the people. I would urge them to do that regardless of party. I have seen firsthand the value of preschool in helping students to begin their school on a positive note.

    My hat is off to all educators for their dedication to the students in South Dakota and across the country. I only wish that I could say the same for the people masquerading as representatives of the people in Pierre.

  22. Debbo 2019-02-21 21:48

    Good one Don, “Republican parasite class”

    Their willingness to avoid helping South Dakotans, or sometimes even do harm so long as it serves those parasites, is really sad. SD’s children could have a better chance, but the SDGOP has just decided to deny them.

  23. Jason 2019-02-21 21:51

    Do you even need a high school diploma to be a pre-K teacher?

    If yes, do you need a college diploma to be one?

  24. Anne Beal 2019-02-22 05:53

    The data is in: the benefits of pre-k dissipate by the third grade:

    If we’ve got extra money for education, wouldn’t it be better spent in the secondary schools, addressing the remediation needs (1/3 of incoming freshmen need remediation???!!!) occurring at the post secondary level?

    If the data showed that children who had pre-k didn’t need remedial math in college, you would have a case for publicly funded pre-k. But since that is not the case, shouldn’t the money be spent where it is really needed and effective?

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPhone

  25. Jenny 2019-02-22 06:17

    Anne, I’m sure you think pre-K promotes the LGBT lifestyle also, like GOP whacko lobbyist Florence Thompson.

  26. Donald Pay 2019-02-22 09:58

    Anne Beal: That’s a good study, but you do have to dig into the data. The study you cite does find that the high-risk 3-year-old cohort did have significant differences between the control group at every point from 3yrs to 3rd grade. The “no difference” comes from the moderate risk and low risk subgroups washing out the high-risk result in the overall data.

    That is the finding that I find important. High-risk students benefit most, and those benefits to carry over into and past the first three grades.

    I am going to read that study more thoroughly, but I’m interested in whether to get that benefit to the high-risk 3 year olds you have to mix in the low- and moderate-risk 3 year olds, or can you just address the high-risk population.

    It’s also interesting to note that this study did not try to determine the benefits of Head Start versus no pre-school. The control group consisted of up to 60 percent of children who had other pre-school opportunities. Thus, the control was between Head Start and all other options for pre-school education out there.

    It is certainly worth a study in South Dakota.

  27. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-02-24 09:05

    Excellent job, Donald, of actually reading the study Anne provides instead of just throwing a link and thinking you’ve proved something. The point that the control/non-Head Start group consisted of a majority of kids who did some sort of per-school, including some who did some Head Start, just like the treatment group, is really important.

    Also really important is the subsequent data that I provided in three links in the original article. The study Anne links does not refute the educational and economic gains pre-school offers, especially for disadvantaged kids.

  28. Jason 2019-02-24 09:11

    Why do a study when what we have now is fine and working?

    We have Head Start.

    If a parent who doesn’t qualify for Head Start wants to send their kid to pre-school they can pay for it themselves.

  29. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-02-24 09:20

    And funny that almost every other state, including Minnesota, has looked at the data available from their own pre-school programs, the responses from their parents, and has come to the conclusion that preschool is well worth public investment.

    But as usual, success in other states only reinforces the South Dakota bunker mentality that we should do the opposite and be proud of it.

  30. Jason 2019-02-24 09:29

    Why should we care how other States spend their tax money?

    Responses from parents?

    Cory, what would you expect as an answer from a parent asked if they would be OK for the State to pay for daycare for their preschool child?

    You do know that’s what it is right?

  31. Donald Pay 2019-02-24 12:20

    Yes, people can send their kids to pre-school on their own dime, unless they don’t have a dime. I think it makes economic and educational sense to look into how you develop and structure a program that pushes more resources to the youngsters who are at-risk. It doesn’t have to be a universal program, though I wouldn’t be against that, either. The problem is taxpayers are going to be paying to address the remedial education and behavioral issues these kids might have later on. If you can catch those kids before they get too far behind, you end up ahead, both fiscally and educationally.

  32. Porter Lansing 2019-02-24 15:44

    Jason. Your wife home schools your two children, doesn’t she? That reveals your bias towards doing and paying for what most people want their taxes to be spent on, doesn’t it?

  33. Debbo 2019-02-24 17:09

    Early childhood education pays off in saved $ throughout the child’s entire lifetime. That’s backed up by such a big stack of studies Minnesota’s GOP couldn’t oppose on the basis of effectiveness. Neither can SD’s. That’s why it’s called an “investment.”

  34. o 2019-02-24 17:29

    Jason, “Why should we care how other States spend their tax money?”

    This is getting to be a theme with you. The reason to look to other states’ experiences is that policy should be driven by evidence and best practices. When another state is doing something right, getting positive results for its residents, then other states ought to look to those positive examples to guide their practices. We should do that for the positive examples, and we should do that for the negative examples, like Kansas or California who are destroying their essential infrastructure because of arbitrary ceilings, caps or even reductions of taxes. We look to experience so that we do not get lost in the folly of political rhetoric — disjointed from reality.

    Evidence, be it scientific or experiential, is essential to argument and rational policy making.

  35. Fran Apland 2019-02-24 20:58

    The education of young children is not a bipartisan issue but an issue for all South Dakotans. Working together to support the most vulnerable of our society is an ethical decision. It is unfortunate that house bill 1175 failed as it could have been a clearinghouse for early education and care for the state. South Dakota is missing Federal grant funding without this council. Continue the discussion of early education through forums to support what South Dakota’s people need rather than tagged a socialist agenda.

  36. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-02-26 21:57

    O is brilliant. Republicans defend states’ rights (and sometimes so will I) on the grounds that we enjoy fifty laboratories of democracy, each trying out different policies to figure out what works. The Founders did not intend the states to live in siols and not learn from each other. States’ rights let us run more experiments and learn more from experience; basic curiosity and intelligence allow us to learn from each other.

    Ignoring what happens elsewhere and doing nothing that doesn’t originate in South Dakota would mean we would have no orange juice or permitless carry laws.

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