As I begin to really look at the 2016 SD Ballot Questions I though no better place to start than Constitutional Amendment R. Amendment R has also been referred to as the South Dakota Governing Technical Education Institutes Amendment. Currently the four Tech Schools are governed by the local school boards. The budgets and rules for the Tech Schools come from the Board of Education’s budget; which is responsible for K-12 education in South Dakota. SD’s Constitution puts the Board of Regents as the governing body of the states Universities. The tech schools however are not mentioned in the Constitution. This leaves an odd legal status of the tech schools as to how they should be governed if they were to split from a school board.
This post will look at some of the basics of Amendment R. There may be more posts about Amendment R coming in the future; but this post should be a good starting point for anyone trying to research R.
Amendment R started as a House Joint Resolution
During the 2015 South Dakota legislative session Rep Mark Mickelson (R, Dist 13) brought forth the following Joint Resolution:
HJR 1003 (SoDakLiberty Posts) – Proposing and submitting to the electors at the next general election an amendment to Article XIV of the Constitution of the State of South Dakota, relating to the authority of the Board of Regents.
This resolution passed the House floor with only one no vote and had zero no votes on the Senate floor. I think this passed so easily because many legislators understand the problems caused by the current lack of constitutional direction as to how the Tech Schools should be governed. There really wasn’t any debate about the resolution, and it fit nicely with other some pieces of Tech School legislation Mickelson worked on in 2015.
Text of Amendment R
Amendment R would modify Article XIV, section 3, of the Constitution of the State of South Dakota as follows (underlined words are what is being added):
§ 3. The state university, the agriculture college, the school of mines and technology, the normal schools, a school for the deaf, a school for the blind, and all other educational institutions that may be sustained either wholly or in part by the state and that offer academic or professional degrees of associate of arts, associate of sciences, baccalaureate or greater, shall be under the control of a board of five members appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the senate under such rules and restrictions as the Legislature shall provide. The Legislature may increase the number of members to nine. Postsecondary technical education institutes that offer career and technical associate of applied science degrees and certificates or their successor equivalents and that are funded wholly or in part by the state shall be separately governed as determined by the Legislature.
Basically this sets in the SD Constitution that the Board of Regents does NOT have governance over the Tech Schools. Instead the Tech Schools have to be governed separate, as determined by the legislature. This would take away the legal ambiguities about whether the Tech Schools should answer to the Board of Regentsif they decide to split away from the Schooll Boards into their own entity.
Under the South Dakota Constitution, the Board of Regents is responsible for postsecondary educational institutions funded entirely or in part by the State. Constitutional Amendment R applies to postsecondary technical education institutes that receive state funding and offer career and technical associate of applied science degrees, certificates, or their equivalents. Currently, there are four such institutes: Lake Area Technical Institute, Mitchell Technical Institute, Southeast Technical Institute, and Western Dakota Technical Institute. Under the amendment, postsecondary technical institutes will be governed separately in a manner to be determined by the Legislature.
The amendment also clarifies that the Board of Regents retains control over state-funded postsecondary educational institutions offering associate of arts, associate of sciences, bachelor’s, and postgraduate degrees.
A vote “Yes” is for adding a provision to the Constitution regarding postsecondary technical educational institutes.
A vote “No” will leave the Constitution as it is.
Pros of Amendment R
Amendment R is being touted as a workforce development tool by the Governors office and legislators. South Dakota has a shortage of skilled workers. Placing more focus on the Tech Schools can be seen as an answer to this particular problem. Additionally it is seen as a way for the tech schools to better compete within the state budget. This is from a recent Capital Journal article:
Becoming enshrined in the state constitution is advantageous to the technical schools, said Greg Von Wald, executive director of the Skilled Workforce Advocacy Council.
The changes would elevate them from an “afterthought” to a position equal with the state’s K-12 schools and public universities during the legislative budgeting and policymaking process, he said.
“If you’re not in the constitution and you have no direct input into the budget, what happens to you?” Von Wald said. “You’re the red-haired stepchild.”
That is a lot of money spent on consulting, with a lot left in the bank. There will likely be a lot of advertising pushing for Amendment R as the election approaches.
There is a “R for Jobs” campaign out there. Just as I was about to finish this post I found the R for Jobs website (it didn’t come up in my earlier Google searches). The site is pretty basic, and the social media links aren’t setup in it yet. But the website does include these bullet-points to support Amendment R:
- Employers will have an easier time finding specialized workers with the right skillset.
- More students will have access to programs that bring them immediate employment.
- Technical institutes and career education programs will have direct access to government decision-makers for support and funding.
- Amendment R improves communication and support among the career and technical education schools and their governing body.
- As workers fill positions that would otherwise have remained empty, South Dakota’s economy grows.
I wish the Jobs for R website would actually include more information about how Amendment R would do all of this. I have spoken with supporters of Amendment R that say it will not cost anything, but I think the Jobs for R website should explain how all these changes can be made without increasing costs.
Cons of Amendment R
So far I haven’t been able to find a group opposing Amendment R. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any cons to this proposal. So in fairness I will present some cons I have been able to see.
First, this appears to be a way to create a new education bureaucracy in South Dakota. Currently between the Board of Education (K-12) and the Board of Regents (Universities) there are many that feel there is already a bloat of education bureaucrats in South Dakota. It would appear Amendment R is aimed at creating a whole new state agency just to handle the Tech Schools. Is that wise to create a whole new education bureaucracy? The Board of Education and Board of Regents already fight for every dollar. Does there really need to be a third party fighting for taxpayer dollars?
Second, where will the money for this new agency come from? Will the legislature have the political willpower to cut the Board of Educations budget and give it to the new Tech School bureaucracy? Supporters of Amendment R say this will be a way for the Tech Schools to expand. Where will the extra money come from? The taxpayers of South Dakota had two massive tax increases two years in a row; one of which was for raising teacher pay (including Tech School instructors). Are the people of South Dakota willing to let the legislature raise more taxes if this new Tech School bureaucracy is approved?
Third, what will the bonding authority of this new Tech School be? South Dakota likes to brag that it is fiscally conservative because of the “balanced budget”. But the state has a LOT of debt due to outstanding bonds (although by law this is not called debt?). This is an issue I will be blogging more about in the near future; but from what research I’ve been able to look at so far the State of South Dakota through the SD Building Authority has a lot of bond debt just on behalf of the Board of Regents. Is the legislature planning on funding this new education bureaucracy through debt? Is that really fiscally conservative?
Finally, I think there needs to be a discussion about whether the Tech Schools should fall under the Board of Regents. It is a topic I have no opinion on yet. But the Board of Regents already handles some one-off education areas such as the South Dakota School for the Deaf and the South Dakota School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. It doesn’t seem a stretch of the imagination that perhaps all postsecondary education should fall under the Board of Regents. True, the Tech Schools don’t appear to want this outcome. But there should be a discussion as to why the Board of Regents can’t be governing body for the Tech Schools. If there is some particular problem with the Board of Regents that makes it impossible for the Tech Schools to fall under said Board; then perhaps more focus should be placed on fixing the Board of Regents instead of on creating a new bureaucracy.
Perhaps as time goes on I’ll think of other possible cons.
My initial thoughts of how to vote
Right now I am leaning towards voting NO on Amendment R. It isn’t because I am against postsecondary education or against Tech Schools. Far from it. But I do question the need to create a new education bureaucracy and how that bureaucracy will be paid for. The “R for Jobs” campaign is going to have to work hard to show what the plan is going forth; beyond simply stating it would be good workforce development. This Amendment has huge fiscal ramifications for taxpayer dollars. The taxpayers South Dakota need to know exactly how this money will be spent and why a whole new education bureaucracy needs to be created. If the Jobs for R campaign can come up with answer I will blog more about the topic!