KATIE ZERR: All education should benefit from surplus

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South Dakota seems to be on an economic upswing as revenues far exceeded estimates in 2013, with the year ending in a surplus.

A combination of solid farm and cattle prices and expanding business and industry powered the state general fund budget for Fiscal Year 2013 into a revenue surplus. The tight-belt policies of Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s administration have helped state government offices report lower expenditures than budgeted.

The growth for 2013 fiscal year exceeded estimates adopted by the legislature last March by $13.6 million. In addition, state agencies also demonstrated fiscal restraint, spending $10.6 million less than appropriated.

In total, the state’s financial picture improved by $24.2 million from the March fiscal year 2013 estimates. Total state general fund receipts were $1,363,765,170 for the recently ended fiscal year. Ongoing receipts to the general fund totaled $1,258,177,217.

Daugaard was forced to make some tough decisions when he took office and with those budget restraints and cuts and the improving economy, the state is now in the black.

But what to do with the extra revenue?

In his State of the State address, Daugaard laid out his plan for South Dakota, which includes funneling more money into career and technical (CTE) education. This is an area in which there is a need for a larger, more skilled work force in the state.

Mobridge-Pollock School District has taken steps to ensure MP students have the choice to move in the direction of CTE and be prepared to move into the workforce when they leave high school or move on with their CTE schooling.

So as the state makes moves to prepare for the future with a plan for steady growth in enrollment and degrees awarded in CTE, Mobridge residents can see their district working in the same direction for the benefit of the children in our area.

Daugaard’s administration is also working to keep South Dakota youth in our state after they complete their higher education. The average completion rate of 76 percent places South Dakota institutes in first place in the country.

Representatives of the technical education institutes in the state stressed that there is a need for more of students and more funding. They cited the following factors in asking the appropriations committee for more funding: declining or stagnant high school enrollment, (it is obvious they are not paying attention to increasing enrollments in the northern parts of the state, but that is nothing new); geographic disparities; an increased recruitment of South Dakota high school students by surrounding states with lower costs; and an overall mismatch of skills.

These representatives said the problem will get worse in the future unless change are made.

If that is the case, why not try keeping the youth in our state by showing them they are the most precious resource in the state?

Why not increase the aid per student to our school districts in order for them to be able to offer those introductory CTE courses at the high school level?

Why not give school boards the luxury of being able to hire teachers needed to provide this education? And why not give those boards the opportunity to pay teachers enough to keep them in districts once they gain some teaching experience instead of watching them move on to higher paying jobs elsewhere?

The technical institutes do need further funding. The demand shows that. But if our school districts can’t provide for the students at the lower levels, what will prepare them to move on to colleges and technical institutions?

If there is surplus funding, shouldn’t those people who prepare students for the long haul of education get a boost from those in state government who are making changes?

After years of telling our teachers and the kids they work so hard to prepare for life after high school that they are not as important as those in higher education, isn’t it time to let them know they are as important?

We must support schools financially in order to nurture effective teachers and leaders by providing a kindergarten through 12th grade environment conducive to learning.

 

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