Education referendum asks voters for one vote on a five-part decisionPIERRE — South Dakota voters must try to answer a highly complicated set of questions with a single yes or no as they decide whether to approve or disallow Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s education reforms that form Referred Law 16.
By: Bob Mercer, Republic Capitol Bureau
NOTE TO READERS: This is the seventh and final story in a series about the four constitutional amendments, two referred laws and one initiated law that South Dakota voters will consider on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
PIERRE — South Dakota voters must try to answer a highly complicated set of questions with a single yes or no as they decide whether to approve or disallow Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s education reforms that form Referred Law 16.
The legislation, House Bill 1234, covered 28 pages and had 65 sections in the final version that was approved by the Senate 22-12 and the House of Representatives 36-33.
The attorney general’s explanation breaks HB 1234 into five distinct topics, all of which could just as easily have been stand-alone pieces of highly detailed legislation.
Instead, they were deliberately folded into one big package by the governor and those Republicans in the Legislature who supported the changes.
There is a teacher scholarship fund.
There is bonus pay for math and science teachers.
There are teacher merit bonuses.
There is a uniform program for evaluating performances of teachers and administrators.
And there is a major change in labor law, affecting only new teachers after July 1, 2016, that authorizes local school boards to decide whether to offer continuing contract protection. That protection currently is made available equally to all teachers.
No Democrats in either legislative body voted for the Republican governor’s legislation. Twenty-two Republicans also voted against it. Had the legislation lost one more Republican in the House, it would have failed.
The South Dakota Education Association spearheaded the petition drive to force the statewide referendum on it. That put the legislation on hold until after the Nov. 6 election results become official.
The governor and the state Department of Education, however, didn’t wait in some instances. They proceeded to make appointments to several of the panels established in the legislation.
The waiver that the department received from the federal government for No Child Left Behind also relies on some parts of the legislation. (The waiver expands the categories of requirements that schools must meet.)
Legislators reworked the legislation in some major ways, adding the scholarship program and giving local school boards the authority to decide how to reward the bonuses.
The governor supported those changes, according to Tony Venhuizen, his director of policy development and communications.
“This proposal was designed to direct state dollars, on top of the funding formula, directly to teachers to promote and reward great teaching,” Venhuizen said.
SDEA, the labor organization for teachers and other educators, was steadfast in its opposition to the legislation. Among the reasons are opposition to merit pay and the potential loss of continuing contract protection for new teachers.
At various times in the legislative session, other major education organizations such as the School Administrators of South Dakota and the Associated School Boards of South Dakota also lined up against parts of the legislation.
But those organizations don’t appear to be active either way in the campaign over Referred Law 16. The school boards are, however, involved in Initiated Measure 16, the attempt to add 1 percent of state sales tax to send more money to public schools and to pay for Medicaid.
Unclear is what the governor will do if voters block 1234 from becoming law.
“The governor has not made any final decisions on legislation for next year, and he will await the election results before considering this,” Venhuizen said.