Opinion: A wolf in sheep’s clothing still a wolfI read with great, if not confused, interest Superintendent Joe Graves’ recent column in the Mitchell Daily Republic. In case you missed it, Graves applauded the Republican candidate for governor, Dennis Daugaard, for outlining a plan (emphasis mine) for K-12 education.
By: Scott Heidepriem, Democratic candidate for governor
I read with great, if not confused, interest Superintendent Joe Graves’ recent column in the Mitchell Daily Republic. In case you missed it, Graves applauded the Republican candidate for governor, Dennis Daugaard, for outlining a plan (emphasis mine) for K-12 education.
I understand why someone would feel refreshed to see a candidate like Dennis Daugaard, who arguably presided over the worst eight year span for education in our lifetime, make even the smallest promise to help our state’s public schools. But I would caution Superintendent Graves and all educators — a wolf in sheep’s clothing is still nothing but a wolf. After eight years of the Rounds/Daugaard administration, school leaders should have been trained to fear for the worst from the governor’s office. School board members, administrators, and teachers have had to fight through inconsistent, ineffective leadership rather than being able to focus solely on educating the next generation of South Dakotans. When I become your next governor, our state’s public schools will finally have a partner, not an antagonist, in Pierre.
The centerpiece of my K-12 education plan is to make our schools a priority again. After eight years of Rounds/Daugaard obstruction, we will finally put an end to the rampant spending that has allowed the state budget to feast while our public schools have famished. I will increase education funding by capping the growth of state agency budgets and channeling the savings directly to school districts.
Prior to the recession and our current budget crisis, state agency spending increased at twice the rate school funding was allowed to grow. When we realign our priorities, we can deliver much-needed funding to cash-strapped schools — and we’ll do it without raising taxes. In fact, my hope is to reduce property taxes over the long-term by giving our school districts the resources to function without the crutch of property-tax opt outs, which are in place in approximately half our state’s schools (including Mitchell).
It’s no coincidence that you didn’t read anything in Superintendent Graves’ column about the commitment Dennis Daugaard makes to funding education because Daugaard makes no pledge to fund education. Instead, his plan is a full-throated endorsement of the same exact philosophy toward education that has starved schools out of existence, made it more difficult to hire and train teachers, and forced our school boards to ask for more than $20 million in additional property taxes each year.
I find it ironic that the Daugaard education plan pretends to embrace local control while at the same time suggesting that he’ll encourage market-based pay for our teachers. His rhetoric is at odds with itself. The truth is, there’s no law preventing the Mitchell School District, or any other school district in the state, from designing unique teacher compensation systems. Schools have that flexibility now — what they don’t have are the resources. Daugaard makes no commitment to fund education because he has no commitment to fund education.
When I become your next governor, I will embrace a true system of local control. I’ll spare schools the doubletalk that they’ve been hearing for the past eight years, and I will finally provide the financial support they need to do their jobs. We’ll leave decision-making up to local school boards, administrators, teachers and parents, and the state will return to its proper role of providing support and holding schools accountable for progress.
Our public schools won’t survive another eight years of the same Rounds/Daugaard policies. The Daugaard plan leads to another decade of record-setting school closures and property tax increases.
I hope you’re as excited as I am to see how our students perform when Pierre makes education a priority again. It’s time, South Dakota. Our state’s school districts deserve real leadership from the governor’s office — the kind of leadership I will provide when I am elected your next governor.
Scott Heidepriem, Sioux Falls, is the Democratic candidate for governor.