- Associated Press - Thursday, July 16, 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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Yankton Daily Press and Dakotan, Yankton, July 13, 2015

Education special session not needed

A group of South Dakota lawmakers are seeking a special legislative session for next month to address the state’s increasingly critical teacher shortage.

But their motives appear to do less with long-running educational economics and more with concerns about the new Common Core teaching standard, not to mention one of the guidelines of the task force that has been formed to study education funding issues in this state.

Five lawmakers gathered last week in Rapid City to call for a special session on the teacher shortage, which they labeled (not unfairly) a “crisis.” Their aim is to convene a session Aug. 17 in Pierre; to do that, they are sending letters to other lawmakers to call the session. The governor can call a special session, but legislators can do so, too, if two-thirds of them agree to it.

However, the lawmakers want the session because the Blue Ribbon Task Force created by Gov. Dennis Daugaard to study education funding is not considering the cost of implementing Common Core in its evaluations. That’s because the group is not tasked with getting into a debate over the merits of what is, for some, a contentious program.

During the task force meeting in Yankton last month, it was stated at the outset that the purpose of the meeting was not to get into that kind of discussion. Instead, it was aimed at addressing funding sources, the teacher shortage and potential ways to correct the situation.

This exclusion of a Common Core debate from the task force’s work regimen has angered some Common Core opponents. They often rail against the new education standard as a means of instituting a national curriculum. Some call it socialism and a power grab. Some blame the White House, even though the curriculum was originally proposed by the National Governors Association …

But that’s not the point of the task force.

The problem is that injecting Common Core into the task force’s mission would invariably steer some of the conversation and overall energy in other directions that would have virtually nothing to do with low wages and the lack of applicants for open teaching positions. It would be like focusing on your car tires while your transmission is on the verge of giving out.

The fact that some Common Core foes weren’t able to utilize task force meetings as a forum for attacking the new curriculum appears to be what’s motivating this call for a special session.

As such, a special session would serve no useful purpose. It would put a spotlight on an issue that has no ties to the problems that are crippling school districts and compelling prospective educators to look to other states to find jobs - issues that existed years before Common Core was ever proposed. We need solutions for, not detours from, these problems.

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Capital Journal, Pierre, July 9, 2015

‘Thank God for Mississippi’ has an odd ring up north

Some Southerners tell us there’s a saying down South when some of those states show up poorly on lists that reflect poorly on measures of quality of life: “Thank God for Mississippi.” That’s a wry observation that poor Mississippi could usually be counted on to perform worse than everyone else.

Another of those lists has been released recently, and South Dakota is in the odd place of saying: Thank God for Montana, California, Vermont, West Virginia, Maine, Oregon and Hawaii. We can be grateful for them because we were ranked No. 8 on a list that ranked the 10 worst states to make a living in 2015, according to an analysis by MoneyRates.com, and all of those states ranked worse than we did. Hawaii ranked worst of all.

This list appears to be a straightforward attempt at crunching five streams of data: average wages; state tax rates; cost of living; unemployment rates; and workplace incidents of illness, injuries and fatalities.

MoneyRates.com’s analysis, comparing South Dakota to neighboring Montana, puts a finger on why we rank poorly: “This is another state where low unemployment - in this case just 3.6 percent - does not seem to be translating into higher wages. The average wage in South Dakota is even lower than in Montana, though having no state income tax and a better record for workplace safety allow South Dakota to fare slightly better in these rankings than Montana.”

That explanation should give us pause. What’s the sense of crowing about our low unemployment if all we can offer people eager to fill up some of our South Dakota jobs is an average income of $37,300? South Dakotans have legitimately taken comfort that in the boom-and-bust flow of past economic cycles, we haven’t seen the highs or the lows that other parts of the country experience. That’s what we tell ourselves, but it’s only partially true.

Where income is the measure, we do hit bottom.

Well, almost. The data say that only one other state in the whole country does worse than South Dakota - Mississippi. That state is the absolute worst in average income at $36,750.

Let’s face it: We do poorly on this list because average income is poor. Maybe ordinary Joes and Janets worry about that more than politicians do. Maybe that’s what South Dakota voters sensed when they approved a minimum wage hike on last year’s general election ballot. That doesn’t mean our governor and our Legislature couldn’t do more. Nobody wants to rank this low in average income, or in a list of the worst states in which to make a living.

In the meantime, thank God for Mississippi.

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Watertown Public Opinion, Watertown, July 15, 2015

How much is enough?

For the fourth year in a row South Dakota has a cash flow situation. In this case, however, the situation is a good one as the state ended the fiscal year with a budget surplus.

The state closed its books on the recently completed fiscal year with $21.5 million in cash over projections because of higher revenues and lower-than-anticipated spending.

“If we are consistent in demonstrating a conservative approach to revenue projection, we distinguish ourselves from other states that often are rosy in their revenue projections and then end up with deficits that they paper over …” Gov. Dennis Daugaard told The Associated Press. “In South Dakota, we don’t do that.”

Think about what that means. The state has $21.5 million in extra money that it can spend however it wants. If the state decided to, it could spend it on roads, bridges and highways. There are hundreds of them all over the state that need work and often times many planned projects are pushed back because of a lack of funds.

Or the state could spend that money on bolstering the Medicaid fund and making more people eligible to qualify. Improving health care availability is always a good thing and in the long run can actually save money.

P.O. Capitol Correspondent Bob Mercer had a good idea. He said $5 million of the surplus money was supposed to go to K-12 education but didn’t because enrollments weren’t as high as forecast, and the property tax base grew more than forecast. He suggested taking that unspent $5 million and spreading it among the state’s 10,000 teachers and classroom personnel which would give them each a summer bonus of $500.

Sadly, none of those things are going to happen. The $21.5 million is going into the state’s budget reserves, which sit at more than $125 million. Pouring more money into the reserves is normally a good idea because lawmakers never know when an emergency will come up and they may need to spend more money than they had budgeted.

But there comes a time when state officials should ask themselves how much reserve is enough and how much is too much. Granted, the money in the reserves generates more money via interest and creates more dollars for a rainy day. But again the question comes down to how much do we actually need and for how long?

Lawmakers could decide to spend part of the surplus during the 2016 legislative session. Senate Minority Leader Billie Sutton, D-Burke, said, however, it’s often difficult to get enough support among lawmakers to appropriate reserve funds because they are reluctant to tap into the fund which they view as for emergency purposes only. To be fair, that’s not a bad stance to take. If the state starts spending money at will from the reserve fund, the more often it does it the easier it will get and before anyone knows it, a significant amount could be gone.

So that leaves us back at square one and the extra $21.5 million the state has left over from the last fiscal year; what should happen to that money?

Frankly, we think sticking a sizable chunk of it into the reserve fund is a good idea. But that doesn’t mean all of it needs to go in and we kind of like Mercer’s idea of taking the $5 million in unspent money that was earmarked for education and using it for teacher and classroom personnel bonuses.

We also like the idea of taking some of the leftover money and using it for roads, bridges and highways and adding to the Medicaid funds. Again, those uses don’t have to be approved every year but they should at least be considered every time there is a surplus at the end of the fiscal year.

Like we said, there comes a time when state officials should ask themselves how much reserve is enough and how much is too much. This seems like one of those times.

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