OPINION: Think about the impact before voting on 15, 16Recent funding cuts have led to increased class sizes, teacher and program cuts, and more districts are opting out and asking for more from local taxpayers than ever before.
By: Dan Swartos , Guest columnist
Tuesday, you will vote on two items which have a direct impact on education in South Dakota. They are Initiated Measure 15 and Referred Law 16. These views are my own and do not represent any official position of my school district.
Initiated Measure 15 is an act which would add a one-cent sales tax to all items which currently have a sales tax of 4 percent. The revenue is expected to be approximately $180 million annually, which will be split equally between education and Medicaid. The $90 million which would go to education would equate to approximately $700 per student. Recent funding cuts have led to increased class sizes, teacher and program cuts, and more districts are opting out and asking for more from local taxpayers than ever before.
A one-penny sales tax increase is a much more equitable way to fund education than putting the onus entirely on local taxpayers. Which scenario seems more equitable to you?
a.) a school district receives $300,000 in funds from everyone in the state, including tourists and non-property owners; or
b.) a school district passes an opt out, receiving $300,000 entirely from property owners within its own district?
To me, it’s easy to answer that question.
The less publicized aspect of Initiated Measure 15 is the impact it will have on Medicaid. In South Dakota, 1 in 7 people receive health care through Medicaid and nearly half of the children born in our state qualify for Medicaid. Recent cuts have threatened the ability of medical practitioners to accept Medicaid patients. IM 15 will provide $90 million a year to Medicaid, which will be passed along to providers and will ensure continued primary care access. Because of these factors and the need to increase education funding in South Dakota, I ask you consider a “yes” vote on IM 15.
The other ballot issue, Referred Law 16, concerns the future of our governor’s education bill. A campaign led by teachers and education supporters in our state was able to gather enough signatures to refer the law to a public vote. If adopted, RL 16 would fundamentally change education in South Dakota by implementing the following:
• Merit Pay: on the surface, providing financial incentives for top performing teachers makes sense. However, numerous studies have proven that merit pay systems do nothing to improve student performance. Many worry that such a system would harm school climate and promote a feeling of competition and secrecy rather than collegiality and collaboration among teachers.
• Elimination of tenure: This is perhaps the most misunderstood aspect of the bill. Currently, teachers in South Dakota do not have “tenure.” Rather, they have “continuing contract,” which simply states that unless a teacher is shown to not be performing up to par, their contacts are assumed to be continuing from one year to another. No teacher is untouchable under the current system.
• Scholarships: This program would pay back a student’s entire tuition if they were to teach math or science in South Dakota for at least five years. Teacher pay is a very serious issue in our state, but dangling a carrot in front of new graduates and begging them to stay here sends the wrong message.
• Math and science bonuses: Rewarding certain teachers with bonuses is not the way to improve instruction or lure people to our state. The best way to attract good teachers is to demonstrate that our state places a priority on education, and the way to do that is with funding and with autonomy. RL 16 provides neither.
• A standardized teacher and principal evaluation system: Although the system they are promoting is sound, I believe in local control and believe that local school districts should control how their teachers and principals are evaluated.
I do believe that the law was well intentioned and I think that with more input and more time to make improvements, it could be good for our state. However, the manner in which it passed and the nature in which it was introduced left much to be desired. I ask you to consider voting “No” on RL 16.
Dr. Dan Swartos is superintendent of the McCook Central School District in Salem.