- Associated Press - Friday, February 6, 2015

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - Republican state officials say they want to study the South Dakota education system and re-evaluate how the system is funded rather than changing state policy based on anecdote and public opinion.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard and Republican legislative leaders on Friday announced the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Teachers and Students, which will report recommendations to the 2016 Legislature about how to address problems in South Dakota’s educational system.

“Some will insist that we leap to solutions,” Daugaard said. “I object to that because I think that is dependent upon anecdotes.”

South Dakota should strive for high student achievement, excellent teachers and a funding system to support them both, Daugaard said. Increases in education funding could be necessary, he said, but it’s important to have evidence backing whatever action the state decides to take. He wants the state Department of Education to gather information on the state’s educational workforce and on school funding.

“South Dakotans want a quality education for all of our students … and we want to have great teachers for those students,” Senate Majority Leader Tim Rave said. “But as good stewards of the taxpayers’ money, we also want to make sure that we’re spending the dollars appropriately and efficiently.”

Democrats have pushed measures to boost teacher pay in South Dakota and have criticized Daugaard for not adequately addressing the issue.

Jason Selchert, superintendent of the Gayville-Volin school district, said he’s glad lawmakers are examining the issues facing South Dakota’s education system. Focusing on education is a step in the right direction, but much of the information lawmakers will likely seek is already available and reported, he said.

Selchert said he hopes the study isn’t a way for lawmakers to simply postpone action.

“I don’t know on what planet you could be that you wouldn’t know that there’s an issue,” he said. “I guess if we need a blue ribbon panel … that’s better than nothing.”

Daugaard highlighted a work group studying the criminal justice system that produced a sweeping legislative overhaul. A similar look at the juvenile justice system spawned an initiative that’s working through the Legislature this year.

“I think there will be an interest in both sides of the aisle in this process,” Daugaard said.

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