Yesterday Sen Jason Frerichs (D, Dist 1) attempted to introduce a new bill in the Senate on veto day in order to fix the “Sly amendment” to SB 131 (SoDakLiberty Posts). In order to do so he had to get his motion to suspend the rules approved by his fellow legislators. I didn’t think his little move would work, and it didn’t. In this post I will look briefly at the Sly amendment and my speculation as to what it means.
Before speaking of SB 131 it might be worth taking a few sentences to talk about HB 1182 (SoDakLiberty Posts). HB 1182 was the sales tax increase to give more money to teachers and reduce property taxes for everyone but farmers (actually HB 1044 (SoDakLiberty Posts) has the policy that screwed over ag land). The teachers union and school administrations did a good job of bringing a lot of attention to this bill. Included in this post is a picture of the House gallery as HB 1182 was being debated. The gallery was full of teachers and administrators. A LOT of attention on was placed on this bill, and away from SB 131. HB 1182 had little or nothing to do with whether teachers got a pay raise. It was one of almost a half dozen proposals to fund a pay raise, but it did nothing to actually control that pay raise. Teachers should have been more interested in SB 131 than worrying about which revenue increase to back.
SB 131 is the bill where attention should have been placed. Yet the galleries were basically empty in each chamber as SB 131 was debated. This bill actually sets the policy as to how the new revenues will be handled to increase teacher pay. At the most basic level this is being done by allocating money to schools on a per teacher basis instead of a per student basis. That means schools will have to maintain certain ratios to actually give the intended pay raises to teachers. The bill originally had small schools maintain a ratio of 12.5 students per teacher; that was later amended to 12 students per teacher to ease the suffering of small schools.
It my opinion, and the opinion of many others I’ve spoken with, this ratio is being used to force consolidation of school districts. Maintaining teacher pay for small school districts will be difficult, if not impossible, under this new formula. These small schools simply will not be able to compete with the larger districts for teachers. Personally I am a fan of consolidation and think it should happen. But I don’t think consolidation should be forced utilizing this dishonest method. There have already been signs of school administrators from smaller districts realizing what this new student/teacher ratio will do for them.
SB 131 did have one provision to slow down the pain of this forced consolidation. This bill used the definition of “fall enrollment” from § 13-13-10.1 to calculate this student/teacher ration. Here is the current definition of fall enrollment, which is also used up until the Sly amendment:
(2A) “Fall enrollment,” the number of kindergarten through twelfth grade students enrolled in all schools operated by the school district on the last Friday of September of the current school year minus the number of students for whom the district receives tuition, except nonresident students who are in the care and custody of a state agency and are attending a public school and students for whom tuition is being paid pursuant to § 13-28-42.1, plus the number of students for whom the district pays tuition. When computing state aid to education for a school district pursuant to § 13-13-73, the secretary of the Department of Education shall use either the school district’s fall enrollment or the average of the school district’s fall enrollment from the previous two years, whichever is higher;
I have bolded the key part above. Currently there is a two-year average calculated for each school district. Then either the current fall enrollment or the two-year average, whichever is higher, will be used for state aid to education purposes. That technically helps to insulate a school if there is a year where there is an abnormally low enrollment rate that does not fit with the normal enrollment trend. It also slows down the bleeding of money for school districts that are continuously losing students, which is currently happening in many small school districts. The simple fact of the matter is people are moving away from the more rural towns in favor of the more urban areas. This is a trend that is going to continue in all likelihood. The two-year averaging for fall enrollment is helping small schools to mitigate at least part of the pressure from declining enrollment.
Now to the Sly amendment. Rep Jacqueline Sly (R, Dist 33) proposed Amendment 131cm on the House floor. This amendment took away the two-year averaging from the definition of fall enrollment. Here is how fall enrollment is now defined for the purpose of determining state aid to education:
(2A) “Fall enrollment,” the number of kindergarten through twelfth grade students enrolled in all schools operated by the school district on the last Friday of September of the current school year minus the number of students for whom the district receives tuition, except nonresident students who are in the care and custody of a state agency and are attending a public school and students for whom tuition is being paid pursuant to § 13-28-42.1, plus the number of students for whom the district pays tuition. When computing state aid to education for a school district pursuant to § 13-13-73, the secretary of the Department of Education shall use the school district’s fall enrollment;
Without that two-year cushion the effects of declining enrollment will hit many school districts hard, especially small school districts. These districts are likely already using the two-year average to cushion their ongoing decline. This sudden change in law means the full impact of declining enrollment will be felt suddenly. That sudden drop will make it difficult, if not impossible, for the school boards in these districts to give the pay raises that teachers feel have been promised to them.
On veto day Sen Frerichs tried to introduce a bill to undo the Sly amendment. The Senate voted 13-20 in his motion to suspend the rules and introduce the bill. They simply were not going to fix this problem. I believe that is because many of them do not see this as a problem. As I said, I believe this bill was intended to force consolidation. The Sly amendment will likely force consolidation of some smaller school districts sooner than would have happened without the Sly amendment. The legislators voting on this bill understood the ramifications and were OK with that.
Perhaps the real lesson in the Sly amendment had nothing at all to do with the Sly amendment. I believe the real lesson here is that interested parties should place just as much, if not more, attention on the policy bills as they do on the appropriations bills. If the teachers unions, school administrators, and teachers had paid a little more attention to SB 131 I have a feeling the Sly Amendment would not have even been tried. It should be interesting to see what teacher pay looks like this upcoming school year…