PIERRE, S.D. -Two Republican South Dakota state lawmakers want to allow public education funds to follow students to the school of their parents choice.
Representatives Scott Odenbach (R-Spearfish) and Jon Hansen (R-Dell Rapids) are sponsors of the bills that would be large scale expansions of school choice in the state.
HB 1233 would expand the “South Dakota Virtual School,” currently housed in the state’s Department of Education. HB 1234 would “provide a voucher for students enrolled in certain grade levels at accredited nonpublic schools.”
In a press release, Hansen said, “HB 1234 recognizes that every parent deserves the freedom to choose the best educational option for their child. In South Dakota that may very well be the general and uniform public school, or it may be a non-public school better suited to each child’s unique circumstances. We must ensure that parents are in the driver’s seat for their children’s education by making funding follow the student and not the system.”
According to the South Dakota Department of Education, the proficiency rates for English (ELA) is 51%, and 43% for mathematics. For Native American students, its 21% and 12%.
Odenbach said the vast majority of funding will still go to public education, but said if the taxpayer can help fund the education of kids whose parents doing want them to attend public school, “that would be for the best.”
The public education lobby voiced its opposition, saying the bills would undermine the promise of public education for all.
“Let’s be clear, these two bills are voucher bills,” said Sandra Waltman, Government Relations and Communications Director for the South Dakota Education Association (SDEA). “Vouchers are when we take your tax dollars and give them to private schools, who get to pick and choose who their students are.”
Other Republicans raised concerns about the cost of the program, on top of funding the existing public school system.