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Education

South Dakota Voucher Plan Rescinded

By Elizabeth Rose — July 23, 2019 3 min read

Over Gov. William J. Janklow’s objections, South Dakota’s legislature has repealed a limited-voucher bill allowing students from small high schools to transfer to other districts.

The repeal was one of several legislative shifts enacted by lawmakers as they wrapped up their 1986 session last month.

The so-called family-option plan, approved by the legislature last year but never implemented, has been cited by U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett as an example of state efforts to promote choice.

Opponents of the law feared it would force small high schools from which students transferred to close, according to Representative Mary K. Wagner, a member of the House education committee.

In other action, legislators radically changed the formula for aid to local districts; increased 1987 education aid by $5 million to $83.6 million; repealed a foreign-language requirement for admission to state colleges; and placed a referendum on the November ballot on whether to allow public schools to lend books to private schools.

Choice Plan Repealed

The “family-option” plan, which allowed parents in districts with high-school enrollments of fewer than 45 students the option of sending students to larger neighboring districts, never went into effect. An ad-hoc group representing small schools gathered enough signatures to put the bill on the 1986 statewide ballot, thus blocking enactment of the plan until this year’s general election. (See Education Week, Oct. 16,1985.)

“That provision was always unpopular,” said Dannette Zickrick, a spokesman for the education department. “Any law that threatens small rural high schools is going to be unpopular, because when a small community loses a high school, it is like another nail in the coffin.”

The family-option measure was part of an education package pushed by Governor Janklow—a Republican challenging incumbent James Abdnor for a U.S. Senate seat this year-and was adopted by the legislature in 1985.

New Aid Formula

The complicated new state-funding formula seeks to equalize funds between rich and poor districts, according to Gale Schlueter, director of data management-state aid for the education department.

“The new formula assures the state that each school district is making the optimum effort to tax and pay their share,” explained Ms. Wagner.

The new formula is driven primarily by districts’ ability to tax their residents. Under the old formula, districts received most of their state funding in the form of a flat grant, regardless of their tax base.

According to Mr. Schlueter, under the new formula, the entire $58.6-million in foundation aid will be used for equalization. Under the old formula, about $32 million out of a pool of $44 million went to equalization, and the rest was allocated in flat grants.

Meanwhile, districts that will receive less state money under the new formula have initiated a movement to have the formula submitted to a statewide vote in November, according to Mr. Schlueter.

Requirement Repealed

On another matter, legislators overrode Governor Janklow’s veto and repealed a requirement approved in 1985 that students take two years of foreign-language courses to be eligible for entrance to the three largest state universities.

Opponents said that most schools did not have the time or resources to meet the requirement and that students in rural districts were generally more interested in learning a vocation than a foreign language.

At the Governor’s urging, the legislature passed a joint resolution placing an initiative on the November ballot that would amend the state constitution to allow public schools to lend books to private schools. Last August, the state supreme court ruled that the practice was unconstitutional.

Ms. Zickrick said public schools in many communities often bought books to lend to private schools, unaccredited schools, and home schools to help them remain open. If those schools close, she said, the communities might be forced to build additional public schools to absorb the extra students.

A version of this article appeared in the April 09, 1986 edition of Education Week

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