HURON — Rep. Jim White is defending Republican passage of HB 1234, the controversial measure that is now a referred law that voters will decide at polling places in November, saying it will help education move into the future in South Dakota.
“Really, I just prefer to call it a fresh look at education,” the Republican state Senate candidate in District 22 said at this week’s Beadle County Republican Party campaign lunch.
“When I say education, I’m talking about our children,” White said.
HB 1234 is Referred Law 16 on the general election ballot. It establishes scholarships for college graduates who commit to teaching in critical need areas, creates annual bonuses for math and science teachers, provides merit bonuses to the top 20 percent of teachers, mandates a uniform evaluation of teachers and principals, and eliminates tenure in 2016.
White, a member of the Appropriations Committee who is completing his first House term, is running for the Senate seat held by retiring Sen. Tom Hansen, R-Huron.
In White’s first year in Pierre, legislators dealt with the structural deficit. In his second, they turned their attention to education.
Democrats argued that legislators should have rejected Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s call for 10 percent cuts in state government and instead tap trust funds to cover the deficit.
“What that does is take one-time money for a long-term process and it was determined by the governor and supported by the Legislature, let’s take care of business. Let’s do a 10 percent across-the-board cut,” White said.
Legislators used a combination of cuts and new sales tax revenues to eliminate the structural deficit.
White concedes that not everyone was happy with that method.
“Some don’t agree with that, but I sure wish our federal government would take a lesson from South Dakota,” he said.
As legislators were looking for ways to improve education, White said they studied the numbers.
The United States is ranked 34th among 37 industrial nations in terms of math skills, and is 17th in reading.
“Our children, as they grow up, you know are going to be in a world market,” he said. “It isn’t going to be just next door or in the next state, it’s in a world market.”
He said the “No Child Left Behind” initiative has evolved over the years after it was originally developed during President Johnson’s administration in 1965.
“Without exception, I don’t care what industry you’re in, it doesn’t hurt to stop and take a look at what we are doing and how we can possibly do it better,” White said.
In the next five to 10 years, South Dakota will lose 500 math and science teachers due to retirement and other reasons.
Legislators were also alarmed when they learned how few seniors graduated from the state’s four teacher colleges in math and science fields last year — no one in physics, one in earth science, one in chemistry, 12 in biology and 19 in all of the math categories. Whether more students are pursuing degrees in math and science because of HB 1234 and the state-funded bonuses will be known soon when the colleges release their fall enrollment numbers.
White said individual school districts will retain local control and may opt out of giving merit bonuses. Democrats have countered that it will pit teacher against teacher and destroy collaboration.
Continuing contracts will end in 2016 under the law, but only as a state mandate. School districts could still retain tenure, he said.
Provisions in the law would also be implemented over a three-year period. The process was established so there would be time for input.
“Each school has an opportunity to submit what they think is going to work to better the education of children,” White said.
Once totally implemented, it will cost the state about $15 million to fund the various programs, over and above what is provided to districts through the state-aid formula.
For the complete article see the 10-03-2012 issue.
Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 10-03-2012 paper.