Janklow: Make children the state’s top priority

Janklow: Make children the state's top priority In his annual State of the State address, Gov. Bill Janklow opened the 2001 session of the South Dakota Legislature on Tuesday by challenging lawmakers to make health and education of the state's children as their top priorities.

Janklow said South Dakota faces "a time bomb" of demographics changes as the state's population grows older and fewer children are born in many areas of the state. He said only 49 school districts saw enrollments increase during the past five years, going up by 3,204 students, while the other 124 districts fell by 9,544 students.

"We have to formulate our public policies to address this," Janklow said.

He urged legislators to continue funding the Dakota Digital Network system of school technology, whose features include live courses shared between schools by video conferencing. Since 13 months ago, the number of teachers using DDN has grown from three to 7,793, and they have sent more than three million e-mail messages.

He also called for adoption of a scholarship program that would reward high school graduates with up to $9,000 in financial support over four years of state-supported college or technical school. In return the student would need to meet various requirements such as completing a rigorous core group of courses in high school; maintaining at least a 3.0 grade point average in college; and agreeing to not smoke or chew tobacco.

Janklow said he hopes the scholarships will help parents steer their children into high school courses that will serve as the cornerstones of successful professional careers. He said the program could also help parents and school officials ensure that the courses are offered and schools would meet high academic standards as a result.

Last year, more than 500 freshmen in the state universities were required to take remedial math and English courses. At the same time, only 241 of the approximately 9,200 high school graduates had taken the spectrum of math courses � algebra 1, algebra 2, geometry, trigonometry and calculus � that are necessary for some college majors such as engineering.

That nucleus is too small to attract high-tech companies and high-paying jobs to South Dakota in any significant numbers, Janklow said. "We're not going to get from here to there with those kind of statistics," he said. "That statistic tells us we've got far bigger problems than we've ever dreamed, if it's true."

In the areas of health and protecting children, Janklow outlined many of the successes of the Bright Start early childhood and parenting programs started in recent years, including sending child development information to new parents, appropriate immunizations, hearing screening of newborn babies, parenting classes, and a special in-home visitation program for expectant and new mothers.

Among the new health initiatives Janklow is proposing for the 2001 session that would require legislative approval:

* Increasing the frequency of organ donations;

* Requiring all passengers under age 18 to wear seat belts in motor vehicles;

* Requiring health providers to report children who appear to suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome; and

* Providing free nicotine patches and other supplies to help people quit smoking and chewing tobacco.

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