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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Education: Daugaard Hopes and Wishes, Heidepriem Offers Practical Policies

I feel another elephant-in-the-room commercial coming on... although Mr. Sanborn disagrees.

Dennis Daugaard's new education plan is a lot like the impression I've gotten of Daugaard himself during the gubernatorial campaign: decent, reasonable, mild... and missing the biggest point. Ask any teacher, administrator, or school board member to name the biggest problem facing South Dakota's K-12 system, and I'll bet nine times out of ten, the answer will be "Funding." Yet as Rutland's Dr. Fahrenwald observes, the Daugaard plan does not address the heart of the funding problem.

Oh, Daugaard does mention funding. His "Commitment to Funding Education" gets a full page and spillover. He speaks of hope and consider and scrutiny and conversation. He even recognizes the basic market fact that we may need to pay more to recruit and retain the best teachers. But Daugaard never says what practical policies he would pursue to put more money into our schools. Daugaard plays my old Republican line: he thinks everything can be solved by magic. Cut regulations, don't raise taxes, wait for the economy to recover, and presto! the problem will solve itself! (What is it this year with Republicans and magic tricks?)

Daugaard ignores his own administration's raiding of new stimulus assistance to reduce state expenditures on education this year (Dennis, M. Mike: if you want to recover from the recession, you have to spend the stimulus dollars in addition to already allocated spending). Daugaard doesn't even really commit to increasing funding. Instead, he defends the Legislature's decision this year to deny our schools the funding increase they were promised by law while giving a foreign oil giant TransCanada $38 million in tax breaks.

Daugaard's challenger, Democrat Scott Heidepriem, is all over the Republicans on this issue. Heidepriem sets some clear funding objectives: he plans to restore education funding to Janklow-era levels of 39% of the general fund, up from the 31% to which the Rounds Administration has let it drop. Heidepriem then tells us where he'll get the money to make that happen:
  1. Require the State’s Education budget to be adopted by the midpoint of each legislative session.
  2. Close the Loophole in the Contractor’s Excise Tax and restore TransCanada’s $10.5 million for education.
  3. Reduce the size of state government in several ways including the elimination of “phantom” state FTEs (Full Time Employees).
  4. Sell the State’s unnecessary “surplus” airplanes.
  5. Eliminate “no-bid” contracts where state business is currently doled out without a competitive, free-market process [from Heidepriem campaign press release, 2010.09.15].
Now this release doesn't guarantee those numbers add up to the 39% level. Passing the budget earlier only shorten the procrastination period and move the rush back four weeks. Selling the planes will provide mostly a one-time savings, though there will still be ongoing savings from maintenance. But shutting the tax loopholes and making TransCanada pay its fair share are definite winners for education. And where Daugaard's faith in the free market excuses him to sit around and do nothing, Heidepriem actually applies free-market principles to government contract procedures to save us money.

On education, Daugaard is offering stale free-market fundamentalist wishes and dreams. Heidepriem is offering a practical plan. Advantage Heidepriem.

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