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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Madison Supt. Schaefer Testifies on HB 1150, Shows Big-School Irritation at Small-School Success

If you were looking for Vince Schaefer at his office at MHS Tuesday morning, you were out of luck. The Madison superintendent was in Pierre to testify before Senate Education in favor of HB 1150, the bill seeking to whack small schools on the nose with a newspaper (and a funding cut) for luring students away from big schools. Schaefer's trip didn't go well: his own senator Russ Olson voted against him, as did the majority of the committee.

I listened to the audio of Schaefer's testimony. Schaefer opened by saying it was his first trip to testify to a bill in Pierre, a sign of how important he considers HB 1150. Education advocates might find it troubling that, after decades in education, Schaefer's first legislative testimony comes in support of a bill that cuts funding for education.

Schaefer made the claim that not just he but Madison taxpayers believe there is great inequity in the school funding formula and that changes like HB 1150 need to be made. Really? The Madison taxpayers—at least a hundred—who open enroll their kids in smaller schools probably don't think so. I must have missed the public poll the school district conducted to authorize the superintendent to speak for all of us taxpayers.

Schaefer and other proponents appear particularly piqued by small schools sending their buses onto our territory to pick up open enrollees. Schaefer claimed in his testimony that Madison will have to install a special streetlight to regulate busing with three other school districts sending their buses to pick up kids in Madison.

Again, really? Three buses coming to town throw our community into confusion? I thought buses helped cut down traffic and keep kids safer.

But that big yellow reminder of the success of small schools in attracting students must be an especial annoyance for administrators, so much so that Senator Knudson offered a placatory hoghouse amendment to ban receiving school districts from sending their buses into the district of residence of an open enrollee without the permission of the resident school district. Wow—talk about a turf battle! That amendment failed on a 3–4 vote (again, Russ Olson did the right thing and voted nay).

Schaefer insisted, as did other proponents, that they are not against school choice or competition; Schaefer said that we "relish" the opportunity to compete. But the whole of the proponents' testimony Tuesday suggests they don't like small schools winning that competition.

HB 1150 may be dead, but its spirit lives on. As the budget gets hammered out, expect more efforts to alter the education funding formula and take a few more pennies out of small schools' hides. Stay tuned!


  1. Vince fiddles while Rome burns.... the real issue is the need that Madison has for a general fund opt out. This is what should be the focus of Vince and the legislature but instead we have these side shows. Every student is underfunded in south dakota whether or not they ride a bus, are open-enrolled, etc. I would argue that the priorities are reversed- first fund every student properly so that the largest (most efficient) school districts do not need to impose opt outs on local tax payers to supplement what is constitutionally the state's obligation. Once this is done, one could then make the case perhaps that the small school factor is unfair or whatever.

  2. Carl, I think we have to be very careful, respecting the product and opportunities for learning that each school provides. The state has always enjoyed pitting larger against smaller schools, rather than address the issue of properly funding every school so these opt outs don't have to happen. You and a large group of us were at the meeting in the Rutland gym a few years ago when Governor Rounds predicted the demise of your school and others. We can argue about the fairness of adding the small school factor to open enrollees, but let's stand together on total K-12 education funding in South Dakota.


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