GRAVES: Vote yes on RL16Bill will improve education in South Dakota.
By: Joe Graves, Mitchell superintendent
When the Progressives in the late 19th and early 20th centuries included initiative and referendum in their platform for reforming American politics, they probably didn’t — and perhaps couldn’t — foresee a situation like the ballot facing South Dakota voters this year. A ballot, that is, so glutted with policy questions (in addition to candidates) as to leave many or even most voters unfamiliar with all of the choices facing them. Four constitutional amendments, two referred laws and one initiated measure covered two entire pages of the legal section of a recent edition of The Daily Republic in tiny, gray typeface, challenging anyone to actually read through such a tedious narrative.
One potentially little understood or even misunderstood ballot item is Referred Law 16, which asks voters to repeal HB 1234 by voting “no” at the ballot box. I would ask, instead, that you vote “yes” and uphold HB 1234. I do so because I believe the five components of this law can significantly enhance the education of South Dakota students. These components include:
1. Scholarships for Students Pursuing Teaching Credentials in Shortage Areas: School boards, superintendents and other educators have been asking for more than a decade for the state to assist with the problem of teacher shortages in certain areas. Providing scholarships for college students in shortage areas, as identified by schools over time and thereby allowed to reflect the most recent labor market realities, is a great step in the right direction to solve this issue.
2. Salary Bumps for Math and Science Teachers: Another step in that direction, and the one used constantly in the private sector and in private and public colleges, would be to provide higher salaries for teachers in shortage areas. The best data on the pipeline of new teaching candidates as well as evidence from the Education Commission of the States clearly demonstrate that we have a longstanding shortage of teachers in math and science and there are no signs of this situation resolving itself. Thus, schools need to pay such teachers more compared to those in other teaching fields. Schools do not do so because of labor agreement provisions they either cannot or will not change. These state incentives, especially when combined with the scholarship program, will ease or eliminate shortages in the critical areas of math and science.
3. Teacher Reward Program: This program was originally proposed to reward the top 20 percent of teachers extra pay based upon their performance. In the legislative process, this became only one option with others to include opting out of such a program altogether or having each district write their own plan for rewarding teachers who go above and beyond their current duties. This program would put, on average, an extra $1,000 into teachers’ pockets. It could, in other words, be used to develop new programs in schools with extensive teacher input or just give rewards to those teachers who consistently demonstrate excellence in the classroom.
4. Common Evaluation System: Such a consistent evaluation system across the state would go a long way to answer the age-old criticism that teacher evaluation is neither valid nor reliable. This component was added to the law largely to satisfy the fairness issue raised by opponents. Nevertheless, it does put teacher and principal evaluation on a stronger footing and so is definitely worth supporting.
5. Elimination of Continuing Contract after 2016: Tenure, as it is more commonly known, means nothing to strong teachers and serves only to protect weak ones. We eliminated state-mandated tenure for school administrators many years ago and it has allowed school districts to make personnel changes when necessary to better serve students. Ending state-mandated tenure for teachers will do the same. Schools that feel granting tenure for teachers is important may still do so locally so there is really no downside in this component of the law.
HB1234 came through the legislative process a stronger law as a result of the debate and input it received in our state Legislature. Now, as Referred Law 16, it deserves our support.
Please vote yes on 16.