Lawmakers will debate education proposals

Lawmakers will debate education proposals
Legislative leaders say two education proposals are likely to draw a good share of debate during the 2006 session of the South Dakota Legislature.

The main run of the 2006 session is from Jan. 10 to Feb. 28.

In his December budget address Gov. Mike Rounds proposed buying laptops for all high school students over the next three years. The state would kick in $1 for every $2 spent by schools that choose to buy the machines, said Mark Johnston, Rounds' press secretary. The program is voluntary.

On Jan. 3, Rounds and the South Dakota Board of Regents announced plans to build a permanent home for the USDSU campus in Sioux Falls. The satellite school currently leases space from Southeast Technical Institute, which it has outgrown, said Regents President Harvey C. Jewett. The plan unveiled by Rounds calls for lawmakers to approve buying 210 acres of South Dakota Department of Transportation land near the current location. He also will ask lawmakers to allocate money for a classroom building on the site. The Great Plains Education Foundation has pledge $5.8 million towards the land purchase, Jewett said. The Legislature must approve that transaction.

"I think that (USDSU proposal) will be an ongoing discussion along with the entire regential budget issue," Rep. Matt Michels, R-Yankton, said. "I think that will be in the forefront from day one."

Rep. Dale Hargens, D-Miller, said Rounds' laptop concept may be good, but the funding "leaves a lot to be desired."

"I think it's probably in trouble," Hargens said. "Over half the school districts in the state are in opt out situations. They're just struggling to make the payments and pay the bills right now."

Hargens said he thinks the money would be better spent by dividing it between funding K-12 education and increasing teacher salaries.

West River districts like those represented by Sen. Eric Bogue, R-Faith, already are using computers for distance learning.

"At this point I'm not inclined to say I've heard anything from my local districts saying they were real excited about the proposal," Bogue said.

Bogue has worked for the last several years to get extra state aid money for sparsely populated districts that are small by necessity rather than choice. He said he will try to pass a similar bill this year and would be thrilled if money were available.

Sen. Garry Moore, D-Yankton, said he'd rather identify students without access to Internet service or a computer and give them the laptops. Buying the computers will mean increased costs to schools, he said. The laptops do come with an insurance policy to protect them against accidental damage, Johnston said.

"This isn't something that's going to be cheap for school districts," he said.

Moore also questioned building a permanent home for USDSU. A few years ago Moore said lawmakers gave schools in the higher education system a direction.

"Now we're going to start up a campus that looks to me like it's going to be all-inclusive," Moore said. "Why dismantle what we put together a few years ago?"

It's estimated that Sioux Falls will grow to 300,000 people by the year 2040. Currently only 20 percent of that city's population has a college degree.

"In order to grow our economy, which will be based on innovation and new knowledge development, we must provide a lot more access to higher education," Rounds said.

Moore argued that commuting to Brookings or Vermillion is a quick trip from Sioux Falls. He said he didn't want to put any extra burden on taxpayers or students at the other public colleges and universities in the state.

"We need to be very careful when we take a look at this," Moore said. "I guarantee in a few years it will be a full-fledged campus."

According to lawmakers, other major issues of the 2006 session could be:

? The State Fair � Rounds is asking for $994,000 to help pay the fair's operating expenses. This is the last year of a three-year plan to put the fair in the black. Hargens said he thinks lawmakers will decide to fund the fair again.

"I think people need to look at and realize the fact that a lot of the money doesn't go into the state fair; it's for maintenance of the fair ground," Hargens said. "Those buildings are owned by the state."

? A statewide sex offender registry � Rep. Matt Michels, R-Yankton, said he thinks the state needs a registry of sex offenders that is easy for the public to access. But debate will center on what crimes to include in the registry. Moore said he doesn't think youthful crimes like indecent exposure should follow a person throughout their life. Both lawmakers agreed that pedophilia and rape are crimes that should be included.

? Criminal code revision � Lawmakers considered a revision of the state's criminal code and likely will again this session.

? Land use � Michels said he thinks the Legislature could consider drafting a law prohibiting the taking of private land for economic development. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that such an act was permissible but the South Dakota Constitution fairly clearly forbids it, Michels said. He thinks it could be helpful to have a state law that further clarifies when condemnation of private land can occur.

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