Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Culture Of Complacency: Governor Daugaard And Education In South Dakota

        Our Governor Dennis Daugaard Met With The Rapid City Journal's editorial board last Friday.   (The front page story in the Sunday January 26 edition might be online hereI couldn't find it.  You might have better luck locating it in a print edition.)   He was asked if he was concerned by reports from school districts having difficulty retaining and recruiting teachers. The Q? Are those difficulties a hindrance to "efforts to attract quality employers and workers to the state?"  His answer was at first evasive--he said he's not surprised by the difficulty in finding teachers because "we are seeing it in the construction trades . . . and the manufacturing trades."  Then it lapsed into incoherence, during which he rambled about our "rural environment" and "multiple school districts" and "fewer resources" and "smaller class sizes" and "more teachers" and how "dollars are spread further among many other teachers, than, say, in more metropolitan areas." Say what?
     Forget about the double-talk.  That the governor is not surprised is one thing, but to express no concern about the economic consequences of finding it hard to attract and retain teachers is another.  As if this isn't disconcerting enough, the governor's avoidance of answering a direct question regarding  the effect of  teacher recruiting and retention is dismaying.  This level of indifference seems indicative to me of a culture of complacency that has taken hold of Daugaard's administration. Rambling as it was, the Governor's response to a simple and direct question reads to me like an elaborate excuse that boils down to a lame explanation that there isn't much that can be done about the situation as it is now in place. I'm sorry, Governor Daugaard, but I think we can expect more from you in the way of leadership.            
     Consider how a prospective employer, investor or skilled worker would react when researching South Dakota as a possible locale for moving investment capital, employees and their own families if they saw this:  A governor who professes indifference to his own state's inability to hire and keep new teachers.  Not a pretty picture.  Add to that the state legislature's refusal in a vote last week to recognize a teacher shortage in this state, then combine that with the non-partisan Education Week 2014 grades for South Dakota schools, which you can find here.  Of 6 components that Education Week grades, South Dakota gets one B, one C, and 4 Ds.  As a prospect for moving money, equipment and people to South Dakota, I know how I'd react,   I'd pass.
      What to do?  I think a myriad of options are out there, not necessarily based on creating new sources of revenue to improve the quality of our schools and the lot of our teachers.  It's all about priorities.  For now, though, priority number one is getting a sense from our top elected officials that a problem exists in the first place.  I invite Governor Daugaard to re-answer the question posed to him by the Rapid City Journal editorial board and let us know up-front if he acknowledges that there are economic effects created by the teacher hiring and retention situation in South Dakota, and if so, whether he's concerned about it.  If we get an affirmative, the next step is to devise a scheme for dealing with the problem.  If we get a negative, Governor Daugaard can consider  the possibility that a lot of his support will wither away in November. 

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