PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A Senate panel has rejected the governor’s plan to offer academic scholarships for foster children in South Dakota.
The Senate Education Committee voted 4-2 on Tuesday to kill SB-100.
Governor Kristi Noem wanted the Legislature to send $15 million to the state Department of Education for what she called the Stronger Families Scholarship program.
The money would have been spent over a three-year period. Students could have received up to $4,000 to use for education costs.
Public education lobbyists testified against the plan because it would have diverted public money to private schools.
Republican Sen. Jessica Castleberry was the only committee member to strongly endorse it. “This I think would be a great investment of taxpayers’ funds,” she said.
Gov. Noem appointed Castleberry to the Senate effective January 1, 2020, to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of then-Senator Lyndi DiSanto.
Republican Sen. Steve Kolbeck called for the committee to set Noem’s plan aside. “I can honestly say this is the probably the hardest motion I’ve made here in my whopping 14 days as a legislator,” he said.
Kolbeck won election to the state Public Utilities Commission as a Democrat in 2006. He resigned before finishing the six-year term and accepted an offer to be an executive for a utility company. He ran as a Republican last year for a seat in the Legislature.
“It’s kind of convoluted,” Kolbeck said about Noem’s plan. He noted that nobody talked about buying a laptop or paying transportation fees; instead the focus in the testimony was on private schools. “Long story short, private schools do not have to accept these kids,” he said.
Republican Sen. Sydney Davis supported Kolbeck’s motion to kill the bill. Davis said she’d rather see the $15 million sent to the state Department of Social Services to directly help foster families.
Democrat Sen. Shawn Bordeaux said he was “very divided.”
“I really would like to support what you’re trying to do here,” Bordeaux said. But he said opponents pointed out a lot of problems with how it is structured. “Hate to see this not be able to make it, but it sounds like a lot of folks think it still needs a lot of work,” he said.
Castleberry told the other senators, “You’re fixating on the word ‘voucher’ and you’re letting that frighten you.”
When the roll call came, Bordeaux passed. Republican Sen. Tom Pischke, who had said he likes the idea of school choice and maybe even the possibility of vouchers, paused for a long time before backing the 41st-day motion. When the roll came back, Bordeaux joined Castleberry in voting no.
The committee chair, Republican Sen. Kyle Schoenfish, cast the deciding vote to kill it.