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Noem Cloaks Public Vouchers for Religious Schools as Scholarships for Foster Kids

In December, the Associated School Boards of South Dakota warned that Governor Kristi Noem’s proposed Stronger Families Scholarship could explode into a voucher program to divert more public dollars to private schools.

In her State of the State speech to the Legislature yesterday, Governor Noem proposed giving $4,000 vouchers to foster children:

Today, I am announcing the “Stronger Families Scholarships” proposal, which I will be working with you on to provide a new education opportunity for these kids. Any child in the foster care system will have the opportunity to receive up to $4,000 in a scholarship to help them achieve their full potential, from kindergarten through 12thgrade. This money can be used to pay tuition at a private school, pay for tutoring or teaching services, purchase curriculum, pay for standardized tests or AP exams, and more [Gov. Kristi Noem, State of the State speech, posted by Dakota War College, 2023.01.10].

Evidently the stealth voucher program, in which the state gives insurance agencies a tax break for giving kids scholarships to private schools, has opened the door for the state to directly offer vouchers branded as “scholarships” to further involve the state in funding religious education.

Blocking this proposal in the theocratic Legislature will be difficult. I don’t see the foster vouchers bill yet, but when it does pop into the hopper, advocates of free, fair, and universal public education should rally to block it. The state already offers foster children good public schools in every community where they can achieve their fullest potential; diverting money from those good schools to a handful of religious schools does nothing to increase foster kids’ educational opportunity but does everything to erode the strength of the public school system for everyone else.


  1. larry kurtz 2023-01-11 06:33

    Hillsdale, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and the seven mountains: red state failure on parade.

  2. M 2023-01-11 06:34

    Well now that Noem has a new Social Serices puppet, they’ll just take those foster kids out of any kind of oversight possible. Send them to some of the perverts in the Catholic Church or let them stay at home with daddies that like to play doctor.

    Public Schools are best equipped to help children from disadvantaged homes or lousy parents.

  3. leslie 2023-01-11 06:55

    Noem has been captured by whatever behind-the-scenes force has been responsible for Lewandowski’s presence in SD, after burning his own bridge w/Trump (he violated the fragile orange man’s ego, forgetting that “there is only one star in the Trump show!”).

    Somebody, Putin, billionaire Bob Mercer, the Koch organization, maybe the fossil fuel industry’s climate change denialism cartel, or whoever, is behind the chaos Trump has been characterized as being the figurehead for. He, like Kristi, is not smart enough to come up with the wide-ranging threats to SD that Kristi represents.

    Here she’s serving the interests bent on privatizing public education.

    Her Christmas Flame Thrower video/tweet says much about her fundamental thought process.

    This week Rachel Maddow tracked coincidental right wing, violent, mostly armed (sometimes using bear mace) mob incursions into American governmental institutions and the like, from April to November 2020 in 7 or 8 states of Arizona, Michigan, Idaho, Pennsylvania, Virginia, again in Michigan, Georgia and Oregon. Almost every two weeks.

    Noem fencing her mansion occurred in this time frame. She has an inside track to right wing militia activities.

    Obviously similarities with January 6 abound in Brazil’s pro-Bolsonaro mob that just ransacked Brazilia, the seat of its democratic government, last week.

    Putin may be the ultimate mind behind the devisiveness in the USA. As far back as 1984 a KGB spy was apparently turned and was interviewed.

  4. leslie 2023-01-11 07:41

    Maddow linked discussion starts @9:30, above.

  5. O 2023-01-11 09:24

    The moment my tax money goes to a private institution, I want a say in that institution’s governance; I demand representation with my taxation. I also want that institution to be held to all the public accountability that all other public institutions are held to. Finally, if privates receive public money, they must open your doors to ALL — no discrimination. These need to be the opening conditions, the floor, the non-negotiable for the discussion to receive public funds. If private entities want to be funded as public entities, then they need to take on the full spectrum of the responsibilities of public entities — not just the cash grab.

  6. O 2023-01-11 09:40

    By the way, what is the sorry state of private/religious(conservative) education that in the arena of free-market competition, manipulation of this level is needed to tip the playing field to the favor of Governor Noem’s constituency? Shouldn’t religious/private(conservative) education be thriving on the quality of their product and the benevolence of their benefactors? I think I’m starting to spot the invisible hand at work here.

  7. Donald Pay 2023-01-11 10:34

    O indicates a huge problem we’ve had in Wisconsin with our “school choice” program. When it started out it was a pilot project meant to address a problem in the Milwaukee school district. There were problems in the public schools there, but the effort to create a competing system resulted in lots of corruption in the newly created so-called “choice” system. The reduced funding to the public schools wrecked hurt education in that system, while the increased funding for the private schools resulted in corruption. There weren’t adequate controls, and no taxpayer participation, so scam artists had a heyday. That got straightened out after a decade of scandals, so Republicans decided to expand the program to other areas of thestate at the expense of public schools. Now taxpayers fund two systems of education, instead of one.

    An interesting result is that public schools are now more dependent on property taxes for adequate funding, thus increasing property taxes statewide. Wisconsin’s educational funding system is based on per student costs controlled by the state with opt outs, and is much like South Dakota’s system was before the changes under Daugaard. Opt outs (called referendums here) are now the common way districts increase funding, because the Republicans keep choking state funds for the public system in order to bargain to get more money for the private system. The private system is now more and more dependent on public money, so they have lobbyists to shake down more money, which means they try to choke off money to the public system.

    If you want to increase property taxes, go down this path of creating two taxpayer-funded school systems, one private and one public.

  8. Mark Anderson 2023-01-11 13:28

    It’s simple, if you want more conservatives you have to increase stupidity.

  9. cibvet 2023-01-11 14:29

    Repubs in Arizona instituted a voucher system for private and charter schools with out any audits or over site that is required of the public school system.I would expect many to operate until their coffers are full or the state education fund is depleted and then declare bankruptcy.
    Pubs have no shame, only greed.

  10. O 2023-01-11 14:42

    cibvet, I’d be willing to bet that under that bankruptcy, the executives got paid out and the students were greeted at locked doors mid-school year and were left to find alternatives with no notice. That was the Michigan experience championed by former Sec of Education Devos.

  11. larry kurtz 2023-01-11 16:54

    Mrs. Noem wants to use public money to pick winners and losers? Mass incarceration fuels the white foster home industry and the state’s relations with tribal nations trapped in South Dakota are at historic lows.

  12. larry kurtz 2023-01-11 17:06

    The Roman church is behind the seizures of thousands of American Indian children in violation of the Indian Child Welfare Act where Catholic congregations and state legislatures have engaged in obstruction of justice since the law was enacted.

    But it was not until 1867 and Reconstruction made public education a federal prerogative when President Andrew Johnson created a Department of Education as a proxy for race politics. Missionaries were hired then dispatched to the Deep South to provide schooling for whites and Negroes alike and Roman Catholics were enabled in the American West to assimilate Indigenous youth often with the use of torture.

  13. cibvet 2023-01-11 17:07

    O–That is exactly right. It has happened before the pubs passed this new bill. Students go to school, doors are locked and the Administration has disappeared, the pub legislators go, hmmm, wonder if we can get a political donation from them before they leave the state for other school lucrative pickings. Maybe Michigan.

  14. grudznick 2023-01-11 17:55

    Tell them, Lar, the ideas you told me about the intergenerational trauma and your solutions to slap those bad actors back into shape and stop the cycle before they screw their kids lives up by going to jail. Tell them the ideas you told me that night we were drinking own on the rez.

  15. Mark Winegar 2023-01-11 19:30

    A better idea would be to increase funding to K-12 education so teachers may earn competitive wages and much needed professional staff can be hired.

  16. grudznick 2023-01-11 19:35

    Tonight, we get Arroyo Goats

  17. paladn 2023-01-12 13:50

    Will this potential program be required that these “scholarships” be made available to special needs children? How will this program be audited, who will establish and monitor the criteria used to award such “scholarships” and to whom will the agency appointed to establish and monitor report to validate the use of these funds are not being used for the support of private alone? Just some thoughts.

  18. Kyle Krause 2023-01-12 13:50

    I think the details of this will be important. I can envision this being very useful for some of our most disadvantaged kids. I have personally seen a big increase in foster children who are WAY behind academically, including a number of kids 3rd grade and up who simply cannot read – like at all. A lot of them got essentially no education during COVID. If this kind of resource existed, I believe I would have been able to get multiple children some really high-quality intensive tutoring services over and above what is available at their schools.

    That said, the concerns about a creeping voucher program draining money from public schools is very justified. Just look at what is going on across the border in Iowa right now. Politicians here will continue to push the boundaries and try to make this more acceptable. Notably for the more liberal readers, the same concerns very much exist with previous efforts to create Native American charter schools championed by South Dakota Democrats. Once that door is cracked open, it will be impossible to close.

    One likely use for a lot of these funds would be adoptive parents who want to send their former foster child to a private religious school. Four grand pays for maybe a semester of such school, and is unlikely to be the difference between a child attending or not. That basically just makes it a subsidy for families that would send their kids to private school anyway. Another would be an adoptive parent who wants to home school.

    If we have the resources, a far better option than a scholarship would be to simply make more resources for foster children available through the Department of Social Services. If a foster child has a specific need – such as tutoring, applications fees, or deposit money for their own apartment – then we would have the resources available to make that happen. Making it a “scholarship” is both unnecessarily restrictive and is not the most effective way to spend limited resources for these children’s benefit.

  19. Marie 2023-01-12 17:06

    “Stronger Families Scholarships”? Or vouchers rebranded?
    Sounds like another way another way to divert South Dakota state funds to private education et al,
    forcing school districts to fund basic public education needs with “Opt Out” levies.

    School Vouchers Have Been a Disaster—Now Advocates Are Trying to Rename Them
    Peter Greene – January 3, 2023
    South Dakota’s Partners in Education Tax Credit Program (SB 189)

  20. paladn 2023-01-12 19:29

    School vouchers are a disaster!! Also, they are implemented by those who have never been involved in schools since they have been a student.

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