By the time you read this, you will know the outcome of the education funding debate. As I write this, I am cautiously optimistic that we have enough votes to turn around the vote from last week. If you haven’t been following the sales-tax debate to increase teacher pay, there was high drama on the House floor last week. After more than two hours of debate before an overflowing gallery, by a single vote, the South Dakota House of Representatives rejected a sales-tax increase to increase teacher pay.
This was the toughest, most contentious bill on which I have ever voted.
I literally received hundreds of email messages and phone calls in support of the bill from main street businessmen, farmers, and moms and dads from throughout South Dakota. Thanks to everyone that contacted me.
This bill struck a chord with South Dakotans from all political parties and walks of life in a way that I have never seen. If successful, it will impact education funding to improve schools for an entire generation of our children.
Though the bill lost, there is hope. The House voted to reconsider it after the weekend. That means we’ll vote on it a second time on Monday, February 22, and I understand one of legislators who voted “nay,” Representative Scott Craig from Rapid City, announced he will change his vote to a “yes.” If he follows through with his announcement and all other votes hold firm, the bill will pass.
However, this is a dynamic process with pressures coming from both sides. It’s possible that other lawmakers will change their minds and votes.
If the legislation is successful, it would raise $107 million annually in new revenue, of which K-12 public schools would receive $67.4 million, and the state’s four technical schools would get a total of $3.8 million. The balance will go back to taxpayers to reduce property taxes.
If the bill is successful, K-12 teachers will earn wages that are competitive with surrounding states, and tech school instructors will inch closer toward earning wages comparable to the trades they teach.
During testimony, opponents of the bill were adamant the $67.4 million could be found to boost teacher pay without raising the half-cent sales tax. Alternative plans were proposed. One proposal is to take money from other areas of state government, such as law enforcement or social services. Another would provide money to education based on optimistic future revenue projections. In my opinion, each of these plans is unrealistic and unsustainable.
I am a social and fiscal conservative. Therefore, before I can consider supporting a tax, I have to be absolutely certain there is no other way to pay for what we’re trying to do. Secondly, I have to believe what we’re trying to accomplish is absolutely vital to our state and to our citizens. I support the half-cent proposal because there is no other viable way to provide ongoing, sustainable funding to pay teachers, and because I believe if we don’t start providing competitive, marketplace wages to our teachers, our state and our children will suffer.
On to Other Issues
Two other education bills that came from the Blue Ribbon Task Force were heard last week. The Senate Education Committee unanimously approved both bills that would establish a new education funding formula and provide for additional education programs. Farmers, teachers, retailers, administrators and others expressed support for the bills. No one opposed them.
All of the bills I am sponsoring are moving through the legislature. My bill to support military veterans made its way through the final legislative hurdle last week and was signed into law by Governor Dennis Daugaard.
The bill that’s apparently been discussed around the country, my Student Privacy Act, passed its final legislative hurdle and now sits on Governor Daugaard’s desk for his consideration.
Many people asked about my impetus in developing the Student Privacy Act. The simple answer is that I am a father of four daughters. I don’t want them showering with boys in school. Other parents who support this bill say the same: They don’t want their daughters exposed to boys and they don’t want their sons exposed to girls. That’s pretty much what started this all: a father’s love and a desire to protect his daughters. Now lawmakers from other states have asked me for copies of the bill and so it seems that other states intend to follow suit.
Once again, thank you for the opportunity to serve you. Please keep in touch with me about the issues that are important to you. I can be reached on my cell phone at (605) 868-9010 and by email at email@example.com.
Note: Attorney Roger Severino, director of the Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society, has analyzed the Student Privacy Act and recommends it for other states. Please read his article “What Locker Rooms Should Boys Who Identify as Girls Be Allowed to Use? South Dakota’s Answer Respects All” by clicking here.