Where’s the drama?

Where's the drama?
Remember the first time you saw the movie Jaws?

Remember that music, with the ever increasing tempo – dah?dah ? dah…dah…dahdahdahdahdahdah, that signaled that something really big was about to happen?

Somehow, we thought maybe we could expect something similar coming from Pierre about now as the State Aid Study Task Force wrapped up its work last month.


You know, something with mystery intertwined with suspense and maybe even a little bit of horror. Something we've never seen before, like a Great White Shark that can rip right through a boat.

One of the reasons citizens' hopes have been raised for months now is state lawmakers repeatedly lamented during Cracker Barrel sessions with their constituents last year that nothing could really be accomplished in the area of school funding reform until the task force meetings were complete.

Well, the report is finished. The task force held its last meeting last month. We've been standing on shore, looking through binoculars, trying to spot the dorsal fin attached to significant school funding reform.

So far, all we've been able to spot is a small walleye basking in the sun.

Funding for public education has been a hot topic in South Dakota for years. There's constantly been debate, largely partisan, about whether we're allocating the proper amount of state aid to our public school districts.

Republicans will typically say for a state with our resources, we're doing a good job. They'll point out that, yes, some deficiencies exist. Our teachers, compared to other states, for instance, are at about the bottom of the pay scale.

Our students, on the other hand, seem to do quite well. They score high on achievement tests. They stay in school. And most continue their education after receiving their high school diploma, at either a college, university or technical school.

Democrats point out in blogs and Web pages that according to U.S. Census figures in March of 2006, South Dakota ranks last in the nation in terms of state investment in public education. Democrats hope to make progress through an 11-point plan they call Common Ground to hopefully increase those investment statistics.

But Democrats are terribly outnumbered by Republicans in Pierre, even though they gained a few seats in November's election. It's not hard to imagine their most earnest attempts to reform education funding failing in the state Capitol.

The State Aid Study Task Force spent 60 hours focusing on nine different areas, including minimum district size, the small school factor and consolidation incentives.

After all that work, sparsity and property tax were the only two aspects that gained universal agreement from task force members.

So much for drama, intrigue and suspense this legislative session.

Taking up the topic of education funding reform is not new to legislators. In fact, it seems to be a yearly exercise these days.

The only solace we find from the news about the task force's conclusions is that Sen. Ed Olson, chairman of the Senate Education Committee from Mitchell, is confident that the chances for a bill being passed and signed are much greater this time around.

"We have better chances of getting something passed this year. We have a lot of new faces, and much campaigning occurred during the election regarding education funding. I'm going to give them an opportunity to actually do something about it," Olson said.

According to the task force's draft report, the state of South Dakota did, at one time, have a minimum high school size as part of its funding formula, but during the 1995 legislative session that requirement was repealed.

Currently, of South Dakota's 168 school districts, 48 have fewer than 200 students enrolled, and typically these schools have approximately 15 students per grade level.

We realize that such statistics make reforming state aid to education just that much more challenging in South Dakota. Those numbers also point out just how necessary reform will be for our school districts to adequately educate our children in the future.

We hope lawmakers don't lose sight of the drama our school districts are experiencing right now.

The Vermillion Plain Talk editorials reflect the opinion of Plain Talk editor David Lias. You may contact him at david.lias@plaintalk.net

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