By Rep. Ray Ring
This week we passed the halfway mark. Soon we reach “cross-over day,” when all bills have to be either killed or passed out of the “house of origin” so “the other side” can consider them.
I reported previously that the House Education Committee had passed HB 1004, which would increase elementary and secondary education funding by 3.8 percent. That bill would bring funding back to its 2010 level, where it was before the big cuts in 2011. As a member of that committee, I voted with the wide majority (13 – 2) that passed it.
The House Appropriations Committee rejected that bill this week, along with two other bills that would have improved school funding. Two of the rejected bills were introduced on behalf of this summer’s Interim Education Funding Formula Study Committee. Earlier this session the Senate rejected the Interim Committee’s resolution “recognizing the teacher shortage in this state and the difficulties school districts in South Dakota face in attracting and retaining qualified teachers.” Why appoint a Study Committee, and then reject its proposals? To avoid confronting the problem? For political cover? Claiming to support education while refusing to reverse the dramatic declines of the past few years is inconsistent if not hypocritical.
The state has continued to push the burden of funding schools to the local taxpayers, by forcing more districts to opt out for more money, just to meet their basic expenses. Of the 151 school districts, 66 are currently in opt outs (44 percent), to the tune of $26,135,562. By comparison, in 2004 we had 52 Districts in opt-outs with a total dollar amount of $15,023,162. At the same time, the Legislature continues to allow Capital Outlay funds to be used for General Fund expenses. This “Band-Aid” approach does nothing to solve our long-term funding crisis. Increasing the reliance on local tax dollars, independent of the school aid equalization formula, increases school funding inequity.
Adding to the frustration for me and, I believe, a majority of legislators (from both parties) is certain legislators’ insistence on using the House floor to grandstand. Some of these individuals are passionate about certain federal or international issues that are important in their own right, but are entirely out of our jurisdiction. Others are running for federal office and want publicity. Some just seem to enjoy the sound of their own voice. Whatever their motives, we have wasted a lot of time on resolutions about Taiwan, auditing the Federal Reserve Board, federal immigration, balancing the federal budget, and even remembering the War of 1812.
Even more frustrating, the same (or very similar) bills and resolutions come up year-after-year. We listen for hours to the opinions of a few die-hards about issues over which we have no control anyway, then kill the measures, usually by wide margins. Even though they lose by wide margins, you can bet they’ll be back next year and we’ll go through the same drill. We were not elected to hear ourselves talk on issues which we have no chance of affecting through the State Legislature.
We still have to deal with many important issues. Both the Senate and the House have hearings on Medicaid expansion on February 18 and 19. The bill to repeal the death penalty will come up during the same week. Sometimes, bills addressing the same issue are introduced in both chambers, so the House will revisit matters that we have already looked at. We are far from finished, sometimes even when think we are finished. I want and need to know what you think.
Please contact me at Rep.Ring@state.sd.us or 605-675-9379. A cracker barrel is scheduled for March 1 at 10 a.m. in Vermillion City Hall. Please come to share your views.