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Thursday, February 18, 2010

HB 1150: House Committee Penalizes School Choice

Stinky House Bill 1150 made its first step toward passage yesterday. The House Education Committee passed it 9–5.

To review, this bill reduces the amount of state funding some schools will get for students who open enroll into their district. Right now, each school gets a set amount of money for each enrolled student based on its size, with smaller schools getting an adjustment to make up for greater cost per student in smaller settings. For example, the state gives more aid per student at Montrose than at West Central, regardless of whether the student is a "native" or an open-enrollee. HB 1150 says that if Montrose attracts a student from West Central, Montrose only gets the state aid the student would have drawn at West Central, not the increased amount a regular student at Montrose warrants.

In other words, HB 1150 punishes small schools for success. Go ahead, Montrose, Rutland, et al., provide a better education. Convince parents in Hartford and Madison that you can teach their kids better than the big town. You'll pay for it.

District 8 legislator Mitch Fargen voted against the bill. His District 8 counterpart Gerry Lange still has his name on the bill. Let's hope Gerry changes his mind before the bill hits the House floor. Punishing small schools for success is not the right way for the state to save money.


  1. Cory is right on track- HB1150 is just plain mean-spirited politics. I don't even know where to start with unraveling the logic behind this bill because there is none. The sole purpose of the bill is undermine the financial stability of small schools. This is true because:
    1) the small school factor is mischaracterized as a "bonus", though it only partly offsets the much higher per-pupil expenditures that smaller schools incur to educate the open-enrolled child.
    2) small schools in general pay a higher share of their own total per-pupil costs to educate children than do larger schools. For example, Oldham-Ramona has the lowest state-aid per pupil cost to state government of any school in the area.
    Either we have open-enrollment where there is true support for public school choice or we don't.

  2. CAH-

    Your post assumes the quality of education is better at these smaller schools because some student choose to open enroll. Choice of enrollment does not prove that the education offered is superior. By your logic, store bought food is nutritionally superior to home grown food because people choose to eat it. (Convenience of course...)

    The quality of education may or may not be related to school size. The students may be choosing to open enroll to smaller schools due to many factors. For example, the schooling may be less rigorous and students may find that appealing. (Convenience)

    You don't know, I don't know, but you are assuming that the education is the draw. You need evidence to support this position. From a policy making standpoint, it comes down to dollars because you don't show that one education is superior to another.

  3. The point of open enrollment is to give families public school choice. I agree that the reasons why one school is chosen over another depends on many different factors, but give families the benefit of the doubt that they know what is best for their children and choose a school accordingly.
    Let the marketplace sort this out. I think it was assumed years ago that bringing open enrollment in would quickly bring about the demise of many small schools. The opposite has occurred because of the choices that families are making.
    So we have a competitive situation now where public schools create and market different atmospheres and programs to attract students. In most endeavors that I am familiar with, competition is a good thing as it drives excellence and improves accountability.

  4. Ramblin-

    There is no evidence that smaller schools in SD are superior to larger schools in SD. So, the choice is arbitrary from a policy standpoint.

    Further, if small schools are far superior as you claim, they should become large schools due to open enrollment and should not need this extra subsidy money.

    You can't have it both ways. Either small schools rock, will attract students, and won't need the subsidy or small schools don't rock, aren't attracting enough students to make them economically competitive, and need the subsidy to support them due to a smaller student body.

    Additionally, if you're pro free market, shouldn't you be decrying the subsidy paid to smaller schools? A subsidy is NOT a free market! Why should a small school be paid more to educate a student more than a large school?

    The current system subsidizes small schools which offer the exact same product as a large school.

  5. Open enrollment works for a small number of students who for whatever reason do not thrive in their original school district. The change in venue can make a HUGE difference in a student's life. Let's not take that away from them.

    Small schools' biggest benefit come in the lower grades. At the high school level their are certain trade offs: smaller class sizes and more opportunities to participate vs limited choices in classes offered.

    No one seems to be concerned that our governor cut off funding to alternative schools. They had wonderful classes for kids that otherwise would fall through the cracks.

    Our children are NOT our enemies.

  6. What I found incongruous was that Rounds and the state congress mandated kids that stay in school until age 18, at the same time as they cut the very program that was proven beneficial to some of those who drop out. Is there a bill this year that changes it back to having to stay in school to age 16?

  7. Why yes there is, Linda: HB 1168, up for hearing before House Education tomorrow at 7:45 a.m.

  8. Tony, I disagree that small schools provide the exact same "product" as the large schools. If that were the case, no one would open enroll.

    If the only product were the diploma, then yes, you could claim the product is identical. But then lots of people would also just take the GED. The complete product that parents pick and that we pay for with taxes is the experience and the community.

    Community—yes, part of the state investment goes beyond the provision of curriculum. With the small school adjustment and sparsity factor and funding formula, we recognize that the economics of providing this constitutionally mandated service are different from town to town. We choose to pay a little extra per student to say, "Yes, folks in Rutland, Philip, and Bison are as entitled to educational opportunities as folks in Sioux Falls, Rapid City, and Madison, and we will pay a little extra so folks can stay there and raise families."

    Education funding doesn't just pay for education. It pays for jobs, culture, and community. The debate isn't just about how much it costs for Rutland to hire teachers, buy books, and fry chicken for lunch. It's also about how willing we are to support the existence of all communities, big and small, in South Dakota.


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