More evidence that South Dakota Republicans see education as an expense, while Democrats see education as an investment....
A conversation with Dr. Carl Fahrenwald, superintendent of the Rutland School District, got me thinking about an interesting contradiction that has bubbled up on the District 8 campaign trail. Dr. Fahrenwald has been working hard the last few years to keep his small school alive by marketing it aaggressively to parents in surrounding communities. Rutland's ads in the Madison Daily Leader have portrayed Rutland as a good alternative for parents who want their kids to receive more one-on-one attention from teachers in a small, tightly-knit community. A number of area parents have chosen that alternative, helping Rutland grow from 110 to nearly 130 in just a couple years.
Republicans should be all about that sort of school choice. Yet here in District 8, all three of our Republican legislative candidates appear to oppose school choice. State House candidates Jerry Johnson and Patricia Stricherz have both said they'll consider closing and consolidating small schools (granted, Johnson's mention was a slightly more oblique reference to "answering tough questions," but if a politician wants the Rutland/Ramona/Woonsocket vote, he'd better make sure the word consolidation appears in close proximity to no, not, and never). State Senate candidate Russell Olson has voted to make it happen, forcing the closure of Conde and several other school districts.
School choice is rare in South Dakota. Even in our biggest city, there are only six high schools (plus Joe Foss if you go all Ponyboy on us). Miner County is one school district. And out in Faith or Bison, school choice means deciding whether you're going to play hooky or not. Why would Republicans want to make school choice even harder to obtain here in South Dakota?
South Dakota Republicans will offer you nice rhetoric about "parental choice and local control," but, just like George W. Bush, they aren't willing to put their money where their mouth is. The only way they can think of to find more money for one school is to close another. In District 8, the Democrats running for the Legislature—Scott Parsley, Gerry Lange, and Mitch Fargen—have all three stated their determination to find the funding to support the schools we have. And in our state, that means it's the Democrats who are the real supporters of school choice.
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