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SD Voters To Decide On Teacher Bonuses

September 17, 2012, 9:59 PM by Ben Dunsmoor

SD Voters To Decide On Teacher Bonuses

In just a few days, South Dakota voters will be able to make a decision on a controversial bill that came out of the state's last legislative session.

The 'teacher bonus bill' passed the legislature this spring by a narrow margin, but opponents gathered enough signatures to put the measure on the ballot as Referred Law 16.

South Dakotans will be able to start voting 'yes' or 'no' on the law Friday when early voting starts.

Supporters say Referred Law 16 is exactly what South Dakota needs to provide a kick start in the classroom and reward top teachers who increase student achievement.

State Senator Mark Johnston of Sioux Falls helped craft the legislation known as House Bill 1234.

"So, this is an effort to recruit more young men and women into the math and science teaching fields," Johnston said.

The bill would set up a scholarship program for college students who want to teach in critical subjects. It would also create a yearly bonus system for math and science teachers and establish a separate program that gives bonuses to the top 20 percent of teachers in every district.

Opponents of Referred Law 16, like Sioux Falls School Board member Kent Alberty who is running against Johnston, say the bill takes away control from local schools because the teacher evaluation systems used to hand out the bonuses have to be approved by the state.

"It's local control in that we can control what we do for evaluations, but that all has to be approved. We don't really have true local control. Local control is allowing us to have enough funding to pay our teachers," Alberty said.

Johnston says the legislation does provide school districts flexibility and an option to opt out of the program. He says it also puts an emphasis on training students for the science and technology jobs of the future.

"This whole House Bill 1234 is rooted in local control. It's trying to get more money into our teachers' hands, more money into the classroom because I think we all agree that's a good investment not only for our communities but most importantly for our children," Johnston said.

Alberty argues that the measure is bad for education because it sets up merit pay for teachers.

"Merit pay hasn't worked in education. Merit pay works in private business. I use merit pay in my business, but in an education model, it has not proven to be widely successful," Alberty said.

And in just a few days, voters can decide which side of Referred Law 16 they agree with.

To read the exact explanation that will be on the ballot and a brief summary of the law from teachers on both sides of the issue we've posted a link to the South Dakota Secretary of State's ballot questions booklet here.

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