focus on progress By David Lias
Between The Lines At the risk of sounding like I‚m beating a dead horse, I'm going to talk about the importance of school funding — again. It appears that more than the Vermillion School Board and administration, and progressive citizens in Vermillion, are worried about this topic. Two-thirds of South Dakota voters believe K-12 education funding should increase and 68 percent support a state law that requires per-student funding to increase by 4 percent per year, according to the 2008 ASBSD/Zogby International Poll of South Dakota Voters. About a third of the poll questions addressed public school funding, including the gauge of public opinion surrounding a change in state policy that limits per-student school funding increases to 3 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. The remaining questions gathered public opinion on a variety of issues, including education quality, local decision-making and education policy. The full report can be accessed by clicking here <http://www.asbsd.org/object/u/0000PUBLICVIEW08.pdf> Those polled issued a strong endorsement for the quality of education in South Dakota. Nearly 90 percent are confident South Dakota students are receiving a good education, and more than 75 percent gave their local school district a grade of an A or B. Anyone who frequents Vermillion School Board meetings, or watches the activities of the board on cable television, can get a true sense of what best can be described as an emotional commitment by the board and administration to the success of our students. Superintendent Mark Froke has shared data with the public and the school board about how students in our district are faring in such areas as math, reading comprehension, and other areas. The results are more than satisfying. In nearly every instance, our students are exceeding state averages, and the standards set by No Child Left Behind. But Froke didn't stop there — his report also included future goals to make our extremely good student academic performance even better. These are goals that not only Vermillion, but also I'm sure every school district across the state would like to achieve. Once again, we must be realistic, however. Vermillion will be challenged in coming years by declining enrollment and the ensuing decrease in funding that will follow. It will make reaching those goals even more daunting. On top of all that, our opt-out of the state property tax freeze will end fairly soon. Without voter approval of an extension of the opt-out, the quality of education here will suffer. ASBSD Executive Director Wayne Lueders said the voters' assessment of education quality matches how he believes most educators and lawmakers feel. The quality of South Dakota's education system can work against school districts when it comes time to develop the state budget, Lueders said, adding that state officials often point to high test scores as evidence that the education system is properly funded. We will continue the familiar drumbeat: it is time for this community to start acting like it is in stride with the progress one would expect from a city in touch with education and technology opportunities needed for the 21st century. It means Vermillion, frankly, needs to wake up a bit. Its citizens need to realize that while, yes, it's nice to have a state-run university as the largest employer, we must further diversify our economy. We need to attract more retail and manufacturing businesses here, which in turn will hire more people. Those people, finding Vermillion to be a pretty darn good place to live, will settle here and raise their families, which will grow and eventually be students in our schools. Nothing could beat student growth in what is already a vibrant school system. There is talk year after year of Pierre lending more assistance to public schools through increased funding. There's been a tiny bit of progress in that area, but frankly, we're not expecting our state lawmakers to be much help, and any legislator who tells you these days they are still going to try to get more funding for schools is selling us a pipe dream. With the economy in the shape it's currently in, we expect school funding to remain tight. We are all going to have to work together to solve our district's future revenue dilemma.