Gov. Michael Rounds’ speech opening South Dakota’s 2007 legislative session last week gave plenty of hints that the Republican governor expects the budgetary debates in the GOP-controlled legislature to be as intense this year as any in his five-year tenure.
“I’m limited in what I can say today because about one-third of our local schools have chosen to support a lawsuit against the state,” Mr. Rounds said, in an aside from his update on state programs to improve K-12 schools—including emphasizing technology and improving teacher quality and school accountability.
The governor was referring to a lawsuit against the state brought last year by 60 school districts that contend they are underfunded.
Conflict over school budgets have been somewhat dampened in recent years by Mr. Rounds’ willingness to spare schools from belt-tightening—and by a legally mandated school funding formula requiring school spending to increase by 3 percent annually or by the rate of inflation, whichever is less.
Although some legislators are calling for an increase of 5 percent for schools this year, Mr. Rounds threw up a red flag about such talk. School districts have used the $29.9 million in increased state aid over the past three fiscal years not to invest in programs, but to bolster their cash reserves, he said.
Gov. Rounds’ legislative proposals feature targeted, rather than general, state funding. They include a bill to raise teachers’ salaries through state aid of $4 million that would be matched by $2 million from participating school districts.
The governor said in the Jan. 9 speech that he would again seek legislation that was defeated last year to mandate that students not leave school until they graduate or turn 18. And he plans to put forward a bill that would require cultural training for new teachers to prepare them to teach Indian students. More than 12,000 Native American students attend South Dakota public schools, out of a state total of 20,000 such students.
Gov. Rounds also cited progress in the state’s laptop-computer initiative and its program to create a South Dakota virtual high school, which has four in-state providers preparing 75 course for fall 2007, with a full high school curriculum targeted for fall 2008.
A version of this article appeared in the January 17, 2007 edition of Education Week