Legislative Week 8

March 3, 2017


Well we’re on the home stretch for 2017. The session has been like none I’ve experienced in the last 5 years. Most of the session was consumed with replacing IM22.  The legislation dealing with the SD Dept. of Education and “Conflicts of Interest” did not specifically get addressed in legislation, but I’m hoping HB1076 establishing a “State Accountability” board will have some impact with concerns going forward.

HCR 1010 was brought in front the House Education Committee this week. The resolution addressed certain concerns about  SD Dept. of Education belonging to outside organizations. Concerned citizens want disclosure statements on any outside entities that the department is associated with.  Following are examples of concerns brought forward by www.sdcitizensforliberty.com a nonprofit organization.

The officials of the SD DOE and other state education organizations who testify on education issues are not unbiased. They have conflicting interests because they populate the boards of various organizations that benefit directly from South Dakota keeping the Common Core standards and the Smarter Balanced Assessments.  The DOE should or at least required full disclosure of their conflicts of interest.  Consider the following:

-SD Secretary of Education, Dr. Melody Schopp, formerly served on the Executive Board of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), which holds a multi-million dollar contract with the state to develop and administer formative, interim, and summative tests to all children in South Dakota public schools. Dr. Schopp is currently the president of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), an organization that is co-owner, along with the National Governor’s Association, of the copyright for the Common Core State Standards.  It was in the best interest of the CCSSO to keep South Dakota married to these standards.

– Sarah Lutz testified as a teacher who loves Common Core.  She was South Dakota’s ‘Teacher of the Year’.  This is a CCSSO program that gives a cash award to teachers who exemplify the ideals of Common Core.  She was rewarded $12,300 in cash and prizes.

–  Paul Turman testified as a representative of the SD Board of Regents.  He dramatically “dropped his BOR badge” and went on to testify as a member of the Pierre School Board.  He forgot to mention that he also serves on the Smarter Balanced Consortium governing committee as the Higher Education Lead.

Other SD Department of Education officials who often testify before the Education Committees who serve other entities:

– Abby Javurek-Humig, Director of the SD DOE Division of Assessment and Accountability, is also the Chair-elect of the Executive Board of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

– Jan Martin, SD DOE Administrator of Assessment, also serves on the Smarter Balanced Consortium governing committee with Paul Turman on K-12.

After little to no discussion the resolution was sent to the 41st day (meaning it died in committee process). To date the State of South Dakota has paid about $858,000 in membership dues just to belong to Smarter Balance Consortium and CCSSO.

SB 125 will come before the House this week. The bill would revise the list of organizations that would be approved through the accreditation process for nonpublic school to participate in interscholastic activities. Currently nonpublic schools that are approved by the Secretary of Education are North Central Association Commission, Association of Christian Schools International, Association of Classical Christian Schools, National Lutheran School Accreditation and Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod School. Oceti Sakowin or COSA is seeking approval to be added to the accreditation list. Concerns surrounding Gear-Up and the $16.5 million in grant money that went through Mid Central in the last decade have some committee members concerned.

Oceti Sakowin Education Consortium was in charge for six years and handled nearly $6 million in grant money. The American Institute for Indian Innovation took over five years ago handling  $10.7 million in grant money. It turns out both nonprofit foundations were started by Scott Westerhuis (Mid-Central) who accepted millions in GEAR UP money. The concerns surrounding grant money distributed by Mid Central going to OSEC or Oceti Sakowin Educational Consortium overlapped during the same time grant money was going to American Indian Institute for Innovation or AIII.

Absent the Auditor General’s long audit process to determine where the $62 million went under the shell corporations formed by Scott Westerhuis I doubt this legislation will move forward.

As always, you can contact me at the House Chamber number 773-3851. Leave a phone number and I’ll call you back. The fax number is 773-6806. If you send a fax, address it to Rep. Elizabeth May. You can also email me at Elizabeth.May@sdlegislature.gov during session. You can keep track of bills and committee meetings at this link: http://legis.state.sd.us/ You can also use this link to find the legislators, see what committees they are on, read all the bills and track the status of each bill, listen to committee hearings, and contact legislators.