PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The ways Governor Kristi Noem, a Republican, wants the South Dakota Department of Education run, at least right now, don’t seem to match how some Republican state lawmakers think it should be.
The difference was on display again Monday. The Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee voted 6-2 against accepting the performance measurements that state Education Secretary Ben Jones proposed the panel use.
The governor chose Jones for the post. But a majority of GOAC members instead decided Jones should add some numbers — what Representative Sue Peterson, a Sioux Falls Republican, described as “more quantifiable measures” — and come back for further review after the legislative session ends March 30.
Further complicating the issue was the panel didn’t meet the November 15 deadline that state law requires. The committee is supposed to review each state agency every three years.
“Where you’re at today is uncharted territory,” Wenzel Cummings, the Legislature’s code counsel, told them. He said the lawmakers might want to see if the law still meets what they’re trying to accomplish.
The Legislature established the review requirement in 2016 for the Legislative Planning Committee. The Legislature in 2017 disbanded the planning committee and shifted the duties to GOAC.
GOAC last year tried to take over the department, after Jones needed longer than lawmakers expected for changing the department’s direction. The lawmakers publicly met with Legislative Research Council director Jason Hancock about finding an outside group to work with GOAC and the department.
But the Legislature’s Executive Board on December 3 voted narrowly against supporting the outside review attempt.
Senator John Wiik, a Big Stone City Republican, laid out a defense of Jones and the department Monday to other GOAC lawmakers.
Wiik, who had opposed the takeover, said Jones as secretary was “given the task of herding 149 cats with their own cat herders,” a reference to South Dakota’s 149 locally-controlled public school districts.
Wiik noted that his children attend the smallest-enrollment district while others on the committee might have children in the state’s largest-enrollment district, Sioux Falls.
“Sometimes just pushing the scale in the right direction is all the secretary is capable of,” Wiik said.
Countered Representative Chris Karr, a Sioux Falls Republican, and a co-chair with Wiik of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Appropriations: “I think we’re rushing here.” Karr said there were several things he wanted to further discuss with Jones.
Objections also came from House Speaker Steven Haugaard, a Sioux Falls Republican, over items such as Jones’ goal to reduce the number of non-certified teachers. Jones was a dean at Dakota State University before accepting the secretary of education appointment. But Haugaard said reducing non-certified teachers could discourage people from putting their expertise to work in classrooms. “The number right now is 1.6 percent. Maybe that’s an okay number to leave it at,” Haugaard said.
Wiik lost 3-5 on his motion to accept the goals Monday and have Jones return in the spring for the committee to review the department’s progress. Voting for Wiik’s motion were Wiik and two other Republican senators, Ryan Maher of Isabel and Art Rusch of Vermillion. Voting against it were Karr, Haugaard, Peterson, Representative Isaac Latterell, a Tea Republican, and Senator Jack Kolbeck, a Sioux Falls Republican.
Haugaard in turn called for postponing acceptance until after session so Jones can make more changes. Maher switched sides and voted with the five who had opposed Wiik.