- Associated Press - Thursday, December 24, 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 [email protected]

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Argus Leader, Sioux Falls, Dec. 18, 2015

The raw numbers detailing the enrollment winners and losers in the Sioux Falls School District are alarming.

Statistics can mislead, to be sure.

In the case of open enrollment in Sioux Falls, however, the numbers predict a troubling trend.

South Dakota law allows parents to enroll their children in whichever school they want, provided there is space. It’s become common practice for folks in Sioux Falls to line up on registration day to ensure their kiddo a desk in their preferred building. It’s a testament to the degree of importance that families place on education.

These are engaged and involved parents to be sure, and they just want to give their kids the best chance in life.

Individually, they are good people doing the right thing.

That’s not the point of concern.

The issues rise when taken in aggregate.

A recent analysis of data by Argus Leader Media revealed that parents are increasingly pulling children out of schools with higher rates of poverty and diversity and enrolling at buildings with higher-income families.

This is the first time the full picture of open enrollment in Sioux Falls elementary schools has been publicly available. The trends are striking and in need of further examination.

The concept of open enrollment was launched in the late 1980s in Minnesota and quickly spread. The purpose is to let families leave low-performing schools for a better one in a nearby town or neighborhood. It’s a market-based leveling process, which theoretically should force under-performing schools to get better.

That may or not be true. It’s possible a school district could operate with such a level of dysfunction that leaving for a more enlightened community becomes the only option.

The question today for the residents of the Sioux Falls School District is whether that same concept applies from elementary school to elementary school operating under the same administration, funding plan and expectations.

That is difficult to believe.

This is not to say that every parent who decides to switch schools is driven by an unspoken adherence to segregation.

At the same time, it’s a stretch to believe the prime driver is commuter convenience.

Our reporting demonstrates that parents are making decisions based on average test scores from one building to another within the Sioux Falls District. Yet there is no evidence to suggest that the quality of instruction varies demonstrably from this school to that.

From Cleveland to Harvey Dunn.

From Anne Sullivan to Robert Frost.

In fact, the reality is the Sioux Falls School District has shown an equal commitment to excellence in all schools at every level.

It’s time to take a new look at the rules, both at the local and state levels.

Because here’s the truly worrisome part for Sioux Falls. If the trend continues, and the income and diversity gap widens between elementary schools, what develops is a culture of haves and have nots.

Kids from families who live within the correct boundaries - not just a desirable district, but boundaries within the city - will have an advantage over those who don’t.

It’s true that historically de facto segregation of a city happens beyond the control of administrators and mayors. But allowing families with the means and desire to leave schools because of perception and feel only accelerates the differences.

Broad economic segregation shouldn’t happen here.

We don’t have vast tracts of poverty. We plan for mixed pockets of prosperity.

We have lived shoulder to shoulder, through the decades, with a measure of equity.

As the city gets physically larger, economic clustering naturally has developed and will continue to. These are issues we must continue to discuss as a community. The planners and developers, the elected leaders and the school district administrators share an intermingled mission to help keep this a good place to live.

Open enrollment clearly plays a role in that discussion.

There’s no guarantee of equality in the United States, only the opportunity to aspire.

Kids in Sioux Falls should not have to begin that journey from a position of inequity built into the school system through open enrollment.

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Rapid City Journal, Rapid City, Dec. 20, 2015

It was a relief to see Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s budget proposal recognizes that state university students need a break from the most costly tuition in the region and that state government should pay a greater share of the costs for multimillion-dollar campus building projects.

In his budget address to the Legislature, Daugaard proposed a tuition freeze, a 2.7 percent pay raise for university employees and a 0.5 percent faculty salary enhancement.

Instead of raising tuition to cover spending commitments, the governor wants to spend $33.5 million to pay off bonds issued in 2008 to finance university science facilities. If the Legislature approves that proposal, it will end the state’s $2.9 million annual payment for the next 15 years and provide needed relief for students who have been asked to help retire those bonds with higher fees and tuition.

It is critical that the Legislature support this plan as earlier this month the Regents reported that on-campus enrollment is down 17.3 percent since 2010. One reason cited for that decline is the cost of tuition in South Dakota, where students pay an average of $8,092 a year compared to an average of $7,360 in our neighboring states.

As a group, the Regents have made a tuition freeze its top legislative priority. The lone exception is Harvey Jewett of Aberdeen, who apparently has not fully recognized the folly of a policy that wants students to bear the burden of a building binge for facilities even though they may never use them.

Jewett’s priorities include building a $35 million math and science building at Northern State University in Aberdeen, which has an enrollment of 2,600 students. He also complained that a 2.7 percent raise and 0.5 percent enhancement for faculty was not good enough to attract quality professors.

Jewett doesn’t seem to understand that if enrollment trends are not reversed at our state universities there will be little need for new buildings and the state will become less competitive when it looks to hire new faculty members.

If our state university system is more about new buildings and faculty recruitment it becomes a recipe for failure that will give taxpayers little in return for their investment in the state’s future.

The focus should always be on making college affordable for students, which is the best way to keep them in the state for hopefully many years to come.

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The Daily Republic, Mitchell, Dec. 21, 2015

Cheers to Hanson School District and its plans to expand.

Last week, the Hanson School Board unanimously approved to move forward with an estimated $2.6 million middle and high school expansion.

Plans include to add nine new classrooms to fill the needs of a large group of students who are advancing from elementary to middle school.

Most often, we love to see progress, and that’s especially the case in our rural areas. It’s sad to see our small towns and areas slowing shrinking, so to see Hanson School District expanding is a welcomed sight.

Hisses to unsafe ice conditions that are looming over South Dakota’s anglers.

The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department recently issued a warning to anglers who are itching to get onto the ice. Officials stated that warm temperatures have made conditions unstable for most lakes and ponds thus far, and that anglers should be patient in waiting to get on the ice.

We hope people use common sense when determining whether bodies of water are safe. The last thing we want to hear is someone falling through the ice. That not only puts the person in harm’s way, but it also puts first responders who are forced to attempt a rescue mission in danger.

Be safe, everyone.

Cheers to Sean Moen, Mitchell School District’s outgoing food service director.

Moen received praise from the Mitchell Board of Education during its regular meeting last week for the work he put in for the district.

After 10 years at the helm of the district’s food services, Moen announced his resignation with his final day as Dec. 31. He and his wife are opening a new banquet hall that can be used for weddings, anniversaries or other special events.

We wish Moen good luck on his new endeavors.

Hisses to the back-and-forth battle going on regarding fences near the Firesteel Creek.

Last week, Legislature’s Rules Review Committee decided fences across the creek’s entire length in the county must have gates so watercraft and snowmobiles can pass. The legislative panel found the state Water Management Board didn’t sufficiently consider opponents’ views at a public hearing Dec. 9.

The water board had lifted the gate requirement on almost the full length of the creek in the county, except the two miles upstream of Lake Mitchell.

We felt the two-mile compromise was a perfect way to end this discussion so everyone would be at least somewhat satisfied. Now, agriculture producers who live in the area are left unhappy, and more legal battles may ensue.


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