- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Editors: Please note that The Associated Press welcomes editorial contributions from members for the weekly Editorial Roundup. Three editorials are selected every week. Contributions can be made by email at apsiouxfalls@ap.org.

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Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, April 5, 2015

Tuition hike latest jolt to state’s education system

We are all aware of the funding challenges facing our state public education system where school districts are finding it increasingly difficult to find and retain teachers willing to work for the lowest pay in the nation.

At the same time, the state is facing challenges with its higher education system that should raise concerns, as well.

The Board of Regents recently raised tuition 5.8 percent for the state’s six public universities, which means students will pay an average of $456 more for college next year. Overall, the average tuition will climb from $7,925 to $8,380, which ranks the state third of eight nearby states for in-state college students’ costs.

The regents’ decision came on the heels of a survey that revealed one-third of college students who earned teaching degrees had taken jobs outside of the state. To be more specific, 260 of 770 graduates took their diplomas and left the state, according to the survey by the School Administrators of South Dakota.

In the case of many teaching and other graduates, they leave college with a student loan debt that is among the highest in the nation.

According to a 2014 report from The Institute for College Access & Success, that state ranks second highest in the nation with 75 percent of its students graduating and they have an average debt of $25,750.

Jack Warner, the Board of Regents executive director, defended the tuition hike as “reasonable and understandable” for colleges confronted by increasing costs and a desire to offer competitive salaries to faculty and administrators.

What Warner seems to be overlooking is that students and their families also are facing increasing essential costs at a time when incomes remain relatively flat in most of South Dakota.

A teacher fresh out of college, for example, can expect a base bay of $31,676 a year from the Rapid City School District, which won’t go far if you have a $25,000 student loan to repay.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard and state lawmakers need to find a way to invest more money into public and higher education. It simply is not possible for local school districts, especially in rural and lower-income counties, to find more money for their schools, and we can’t continue to expect our college students to continue going further in debt it we want them to stay in South Dakota.

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Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan, Yankton, April 7, 2015

Weighing a new sediment option

An interesting, not-so-little “what if” possibility cropped up recently that could have a big impact on the area around Lewis and Clark Lake.

At a meeting of the Missouri Sedimentation Action Coalition in Niobrara, Nebraska, Ron Zelt, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, discussed the possibility of using the sediment gradually choking out Lewis and Clark Lake as material for hydraulic fracturing - or fracking - operations in the North Dakota oilfields.

The industrial use of the sedimentation could be the answer that has long been sought to the question of how to save the man-made lake from eventually turning into a vast marshland. What that future might look like is already showing itself in the Springfield area, where the once wide river is now composed mostly of small channels, sandbars and vegetation.

Coping with the sedimentation would come at a hefty - and some might argue prohibitive - cost.

But can the rising need for industrial sand and gravel be the answer?

That’s what Zelt wants to find out. He said a research team is currently preparing studies on some sandbars, starting at the Chief Standing Bear Bridge near Niobrara/Springfield.

Fracking is a process, albeit highly controversial, in which high-pressure water and sand are injected into a geologic formation, creating small fissures that allow for the extraction of crude oil or natural gas. The sand acts as a “proppant,” an agent that props open the newly created fracture to allow extraction.

If the sediment in Lewis and Clark Lake proves usable, it could have significant economic benefits here. The handiest example cited was the Loup River region in Nebraska, where more than 1 million tons of sand are removed annually and commercial dredging operations have created up to 150 jobs.

The search for industrial sand and gravel has grown greatly in recent years, thanks in no small part to the North Dakota oil boom. Such demand has created a search for new sources of material, and Lewis and Clark Lake could be a prime candidate.

There are no guarantees right now, which is why the studies are needed. Not all sand is of the right quality, for instance. Then again, the material could have more uses beyond industrial fracking.

It’s too early to bank on this as a sure answer to the lake’s sedimentation issue. But it is a fascinating new option that needs to be watched closely.

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The Public Opinion, Watertown, April 8, 2015

Lawmakers saw problem, and the solution

During the recently completed session of the S.D. Legislature, a majority of the members of the state House and Senate voted to increase the state’s gasoline tax for the first time since 1999. They raised it 6 cents a gallon and passed along other tax increases and fee hikes to raise additional money which will be used to build, maintain and repair our state’s roads, bridges and highways.

What makes these moves noteworthy is that both chambers of the Legislature are completely controlled by Republicans who have super-majorities in both bodies. And since Republicans are usually considered to be strongly against raising taxes, the tax increases and fee hikes approved this session may seem a bit out of character. That may be true in other places - especially in Congress - but not here.

A database from the Transportation Department reviewed by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) reported that one-fifth of the bridges in South Dakota are falling apart and in need of repair.

South Dakota, like most states, relies on federal dollars to pay for much of the repair and maintenance work on its roads and bridges. Federal funding for highway construction, maintenance and other surface transportation programs is supposed to come from the Highway Trust Fund, which gets its revenue primarily from the 18.4 cent-per-gallon tax on gasoline and a 24.4 cent-per-gallon tax on diesel fuel.

But those tax rates - last increased in 1993 - don’t generate enough money to cover highway spending. Plus, Congress hasn’t been able to agree on how best to replenish the Highway Trust Fund and has instead resorted to a series of stopgap measures to keep it going which makes long-term planning by the states impossible.

And that brings us back to lawmakers who know how to do their job. Members of the S.D. Legislature looked at the problems facing our road and bridges and knew there was no place for politics or grandstanding when it came to seeking a way to deal with such a problem.

The money generated won’t be enough to solve all the problems and federal funds will still be needed. But unlike the folks in Washington, D.C., our lawmakers recognize a problem when they see it and are willing to do something about it regardless of political affiliation. That’s the way government is supposed to work.

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