Schools -- and how they're run -- are at the forefront of this year's election cycle, with voters to decide the fate of two ballot initiatives that will directly affect education in our state.

Earlier this week, we gave our endorsement to vote against Initiated Measure 15, which would increase the state sales tax by 1 percent to raise money for K-12 education and Medicaid. IM 15 is too high of a tax hike, we argue, and such a large slush fund should not be dedicated and spent specifically without consent of our elected leaders. Again, vote no on IM 15.

Today, we urge South Dakotans to vote in favor of Referred Law 16, which would bring about wide-reaching reform to this state's schools and how they're run.

RL 16 would establish a teacher scholarship program, create a program for math and science teacher bonuses, create a program for teacher merit bonuses, mandate a uniform teacher and principal evaluation system and eliminate state requirements for teacher tenure.

South Dakota educator groups have clamored for higher pay for years, citing various studies that show our state among the bottom of the nation in teacher pay. Whether teachers should be paid higher is debatable, but the matter was addressed earlier this year by the Legislature.

From those discussions came Referred Law 16.

Opponents of RL 16 say studies show no correlation between merit pay and student achievement. They say Referred Law 16 will create competitive environments in which teachers will forego teamwork as they strive to collect bigger paychecks.

They say that providing bonuses and/or scholarships for certain teachers is discriminatory and will cause resentment among faculty.

We don't like these arguments, and agree with proponents of Referred Law 16.

For instance, proponents say RL 16 invests in great teachers. We agree.

They say a scholarship program will push more top students into teaching, and especially in critical areas like math and science. We agree.

They say RL 16 will give districts the opportunity to reward great teachers. We agree.

They say that bad teachers who are tenured are harder to push out the door. We agree.

We do not have a problem with teachers being paid more, but we feel that individual teachers must earn it. We suspect every district in the state has a teacher who does not deserve the same raise as others, yet the current system tends to distribute raises equally and without bias toward the best or worst. That's not right.

At the root of RL 16 is this simple truth: We all know great teachers and we all know bad teachers.

We say the good teachers should be rewarded accordingly, and the bad teachers should see their pay frozen or be shown the door. Referred Law 16 makes it easier to accomplish this basic tenet of common sense, and that's why we like it.

We will vote in favor of RL 16.