My friends Bruce Danielson and Scott Ehrisman do us the favor of recording and posting Friday’s Sioux Falls School Board candidates’ forum hosted by the Democratic Forum. My friend Jim Sanden does voters the favor of challenging the candidates with a tough question (around 21:40) about a specific state law negatively affecting public schools in Sioux Falls and around the state: stealth vouchers, the sneaky plan proposed by an insurance salesman’s wife to give insurance salesmen tax rebates for funneling money to Christian schools. Our theocratic Legislature and Pastor Kristi Noem expanded that program’s spending limits this year, meaning more taxpayer dollars are being used to instill in children the virtues of worshipping one particular deity.
Constitutional watchdog Sanden asked the four women running for the school board how they feel about stealth vouchers and what they would do to mobilize the entire school board to resist “those kinds of encroachments on the South Dakota Constitution.”
The only candidate who provided a focused and specific response to the question was two-term incumbent Carly Reiter. The others—challengers Lora Hubbel, Sarah Anderson, and Nan Baker—offered a combination of talking around the issue and branching off to other issues they felt more prepared to address.
Reiter (third at the table from left to right in Cameraman Bruce’s frame, and third to address Sanden’s question) spoke knowledgeably, directly, and solely to the question. She referred to the district’s unsuccessful effort to lobby against the bill (Reiter said “last couple of years”; Heineman originally floated her stealth vouchers in 2015; her handout to her husband and insurance cronies passed in 2016). Reiter emphasized that the public schools uniquely commit to teaching every child, regardless of their academic performance, ability or disability, race, religion, whatever, and thus need taxpayer support. Private schools, Reiter reminded us, pick their students and thus do not reflect the full public interest. She said that she would support efforts to undo the stealth vouchers.
In her lead-off response, Lora Hubbel said not one word about stealth vouchers. She spoke of her experience in the Legislature (which happened three years prior to the proposal of stealth vouchers). She spoke of her frustration with the Legislature’s appalling disregard for the state constitution and said she got reprimanded for trying to bring constitutional points to the Legislature’s attention. As an example of unconstitutional action in South Dakota, Hubbel turned to corporate farms, which she said our state constitution bans but which we nonetheless have in South Dakota. (Hubbel ignores Judge Charles Kornmann’s reminder from just two weeks ago that he overturned that ban as a violation of the U.S. Constitution in 2002; the 1998 voter-approved ban lingers in our state constitution as a judicially mooted vestige of our once-successful anti-corporate urges.)
Hubbel said her matchless care for the constitution is reflected by her stint in the Constitution Party. That claim should not weigh in this debate, because every political party seeks to uphold the Constitution. If anything, Hubbel’s association with the Constitution Party should weigh against her claim to a seat on the Sioux Falls school board, because Hubbel’s stint in the Constitution Party was marred by the party’s inability to follow its own bylaws, failure to legally place any candidates on the 2018 ballot, and loss of recognized party status in South Dakota. And with respect to Sanden’s question, waving the Constitution Party flag should raise a red flag, because the Constitution Party views public education in general as evil Marxism and Communism. The CP claims to oppose federal school vouchers, but it advocates “equitable tax relief for families whose children do not attend government schools”… which sounds like just a different flavor of South Dakota’s stealth vouchers, draining money from public schools to support private schools.
Hubbel said she agrees with Sanden that the Constitution matters, but she ignored—and, from her CP profession, appears to diametrically oppose—the practical focus of Sanden’s question, the basic mandate a public school board member must fulfill, to keep public education strong.
Following Lora Hubbel, Sarah Anderson said that as a newcomer she has “listened to Legislative Sessions, during work…” which I wouldn’t say with my boss listening and which I also do not do, since my job is not with the LRC. (Anderson works remotely for a Minnesota hospital, but there’s no such thing as multi-tasking; there’s just doing lots of jobs in little ineffective bits.) Anderson said “we need all the money we can get,” but then drifted off to talk about “overreach” by the Legislature on social issues. Anderson is spot on; the Legislature does overreach, as with rookie Rep. Kaleb Weis’s absurd and soundly defeated teacher code of silence, which Anderson seemed to reference in her remarks. I deeply appreciate Anderson’s clearheaded rejection of the Legislature’s anti-educational monkey-wrenching of public education, and the stealth vouchers Sanden asked about are certainly part of the monkey-wrenching that Anderson would need to oppose from a board seat. Anderson made no specific comment on the specific and pressing policy issue that Sanden raised, reflecting a lack of knowledge about the Legislature prior to the 2019 Session.
Nan Baker went last and said she didn’t want to belabor the issue raised… and thus raced right off to her apparently better prepared tangent on opt-outs. Baker said nothing wrong—allowing districts to opt out of the state’s arbitrary throttlings of public education. But Baker sounds like she’s trying to shoehorn her debate prep on school finance into a response that should have focused more clearly on the specific issue the speaker raised.
There’s much more for Sioux Falls voters to view in this forum to inform their choices in Tuesday’s election (yes, choices, plural—don’t forget you’re picking two board members!). But on this particular question of defending public education from the encroachment of theocrats who view the Sioux Falls School Board and public school administrators and teachers as the enemy, incumbent Carly Reiter is clearly prepared to fight the battle a position on the board obliges any member to fight. She clearly enunciates why stealth vouchers—public money for exclusive religious schools—is bad policy. Voters may give Sarah Anderson partial credit for expressing a general philosophy and approach that provide the basis for supporting Reiter and the board and every student in Sioux Falls and South Dakota against the scourge of stealth vouchers. Baker, alas, strikes out with a reasonable but generic response that by itself does not sufficiently commit Baker to fighting the problem the questioner posed. Hubbel’s response ignores the issue entirely, and raises an issue of partisan affiliation that suggests opposition to the very mission of Sioux Falls public schools.