PIERRE, S.D. – South Dakota public school boosters have the policy known as school choice, and its potential expansion, on their radar screens and are gearing up to push back in the upcoming legislative session. Since assuming office, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has made a big push for charter schools and voucher programs. That effort has emboldened some states. And while South Dakota’s 2018 legislative session still is months away, resisting the so-called school choice movement is at the top of the list for groups that support public schools. Wade Pogany, executive director of Associated School Boards of South Dakota, says the reason for his group’s opposition is simple.
“In South Dakota, we have really good public schools,” he states. “We have really good private schools. But when limited dollars are in need, obviously the public schools want to keep those.”
Pogany says that the term “school choice” is a misnomer because it suggests that students in public schools don’t have choices, when in fact they do. He says “school choice” amounts to a diversion of taxpayer money from public schools. Pogany says South Dakota is an open enrollment state, meaning parents can enroll their children wherever they want. And he says there are a lot of academic choices when it comes to schools.
“If parents want more opportunities in terms of curriculum, we have a lot of students that are taking dual-credit courses, that are high school and college ready courses,” he points out. “We have kids that are taking numerous courses online. So the opportunities are there.”
Pogany says some districts also offer career and technical education opportunities. But access to these opportunities could be hampered if funds are redistributed to private schools. In 2016, state lawmakers approved a program allowing insurance companies to fund private school scholarships in exchange for tax credits. The Associated School Boards wants to see this bill repealed.