March 1, 2012
HB 1234: The Morning After
The sun did come up today despite all the over the top rhetoric about how bad the passing of HB1234 would be for our state. Leading the pack in that type of rhetoric was my Spearfish teacher friend, Cory at Madville Times. Yesterday he likened us passing HB1234 to leading our educators into the gas chambers.
This bill addresses the number one concern in South Dakota education - low teacher pay. It doesn't get a pay increase to all, but it does for some. If you ask teachers in South Dakota, and I have, do you think we should pay good teachers more they will say yes. If is not fair or right for a teacher who works her/his tail off to get the same as the teacher across the hall who barely does the minimums. Yes, we do hear complaints about bad teaching - kids plopped in front of video lectures, teachers who haven't presented anything new in several years. I heard two weekends ago about a drunk teacher passed out in a SD public school classroom.
If you ask teachers if they think there ought to be a better way to get rid of the bad teachers they say yes. There is due process in HB1234. This bill is about the good, the bad and the rare. Pay good teachers more, get rid of the bad ones and offer incentives to attract teachers to the areas we are presently sparce (mainly math and science). If you ask teachers if they think there should be incentives to attract hard to find teachers you'll get a yes. I believe most who teach in South Dakota are heroes who'd show up and teach if they were paid nothing, but bad teachers exist. And if we are trying to drive student achievement, particularly in math and science, investing in good teachers makes sense.
To suggest this is some sort of affront to teachers or an attack on education is just false. To those who are framing this as an attack, I'd point out the barbs are only coming our way– and they are brutal. Yesterday I was called spineless and compared to Judas selling his soul for 30 pieces of silver. Spineless? The easy vote would have been no. It takes a backbone to stand up and say we aren't just throwing more money at something if doing so historically has proven to not be the answer.
Regarding this sacred Republican value of local control. This bill is now packed with local control - a district can opt out, design their own plan, etc, etc. It's not absolute local control and it shouldn't be - the state is writing the check and money ought to be tied to accountability. That's a very Republican ideal.
History in South Dakota has shown us that more money to education does not translate into higher teacher pay - the districts just hire more at the low wage. In HB1234 the Governor crafted a way to get money directly to teachers.
We've also heard this bill has many subject matters and therefore is unconstitutional as state law says a bill can only have one subject matter. I've read this bill many, many times and there is one, quite narrow subject matter - teacher compensation as it relates to student achievement.
There were good questions raised as to whether or not this bill will actually drive student achievement. I'm convinced it will as student achievement is directly related to good teachers. My good friend Rep. Munsterman named twelve school districts yesterday that had good student achievement but his point was that we don't know why - that hasn't been evaluated. My response is that except for Brookings, the districts he named with the highest student achievement are districts at the bottom of the teacher pay scale. A conclusion could be drawn from those instances that more money doesn't translate into better student achievement. My view is that HB1234 isn't the end all to getting to better student achievement, but it contains key components of the strategy.
It's been no secret I've had great consternation with this bill and I've been specific as to why. My concerns were not so much related to the various tenets in the bill. I have held out hope there is a way to do this needed education reform in South Dakota with the cooperation of those it most affects. Instead they are kicking and screaming. The reason I shifted back to a green vote is because my concerns have been alleviated. The major aspects of this bill have been pushed back to 2014 and 2016 leaving a substantial open window of time and opportunity for all the stakeholders to contribute to the best implementation of every aspect of the bill.
The bill calls for a South Dakota Education Reform Advisory Council that consists of three members of the Senate, three members of the House, the Secretary of the Dept of Ed, three school superintendents, three principals, five teachers, three school board members, one member of the Board of Regents, one rep from the post secondary technical institutes, one rep from the school adminstrators, one rep of the SDEA and one rep of the Association of School Boards.
That's what I wanted to see all along and that is now in this bill… there are a couple years now intervening where all these players will be hands-on in South Dakota education reform.
Rep. David Lust said it best yesterday, "It comes down to inertia vs. movement. Status quo vs. change." This bill is movement in the right direction and that's why I voted green.