Home > 2012 Ballot, election > South Dakota 2012 Ballot: My take on Referred Law 16

South Dakota 2012 Ballot: My take on Referred Law 16

October 7, 2012

One of the initiatives on the 2012 South Dakota ballot is Referred Law 16, HB1234. Here is the official text (PDF) of this ballot text from the SD Secretary of State website:

Title: An education reform act to establish a teacher scholarship program; create a program for math and science teacher bonuses; create a program for teacher merit bonuses; mandate a uniform teacher and principal evaluation system; and eliminate state requirements for teacher tenure.

Attorney General Explanation
Referred Law 16 is an education reform act with five key components.

First, it establishes a scholarship
program for eligible college students who commit to teach in South Dakota in critical need subject areas.

Second, the referred law creates a program to provide state-funded annual bonuses for eligible math and
science teachers.

Third, the referred law develops a separate “Top Teachers” bonus program. This program provides
annual state-funded merit bonuses for up to 20% of each school district’s full-time certified teachers, as
awarded by the local school boards. Alternatively, a school board may enact its own program for teacher
bonuses, using these state-provided funds. A school board may opt out of these merit bonus programs
altogether, resulting in re-allocation of its merit bonus funds to other participating school districts.

Fourth, the referred law mandates a uniform statewide system for evaluating teachers and principals,
including a rating system.

Fifth, the referred law eliminates state requirements for continuing contracts (“tenure”) for teachers who
do not achieve tenure by July 1, 2016. School boards may, in their discretion, choose to offer continuing
contracts to non-tenured teachers.

A vote “Yes” is to enact the education reform act.
A vote “No” is against the referred law.

This one has created a lot of teachers and school boards to speak out against it. Before saying my vote let me state the pros and cons I agree with for this law:


  • Tenure. The first pro is eliminating tenure from teacher contracts in SD. I know the opposition to this law say that “continuing contracts” are not the same as tenure. Bullshit. I can call a duck a cow, but that doesn’t change the fact it is a duck.
  • Bonuses. The opposition states that bonus programs simply do not work. However pay incentives included in a well-planned employee retention plan does improve productivity.
  • Evaluations. I see nothing wrong with principles and teachers being evaluated for how well they perform their jobs. I just had a debate with a friend that happens to be a teacher. He made two statements that are said by many people opposing educator evaluations: “How can you punish well-intended teachers because they don’t do as well as others” and “I have no control over my students outside of school”. Bullshit. As a parent of three intelligent boys I hope their teachers are good at what they do. Having well-intended but poor performing teachers simply makes the education system worse. And secondly no teacher has control over the kids outside of their classroom. Yes, teachers can and do have students that fall in bad situations. However an evaluation system could take this into account. The problem is educators have taken a “I won’t submit to any evaluation  approach, so teachers are leaving themselves out of the debate as to how evaluations should be done.


  • Bonuses. This one was in pro, but it also belongs here. Many who oppose this law say bonuses have done nothing to improve scores. This is true and has been proven in many studies. However studies that take into account a well-rounded employee compensation and motivation program do show that bonuses are part of the answer. However they are not the ONLY answer. Simply throwing money at the problem solves nothing, and in fact will probably create even more problems.
  • Scholarship. As someone who has recieved scholarships from private organizations I understand how important they are. However it is no place of the government to give taxpayer money for higher education.
  • Evaluations. While I stated in the pro section that evaluations are good. Upon further reflection I do not believe they are good at the state level. Decisions of this kind are best left to the local school districts. But I would urge local school districts to look at evaluation standards for all staff (education and administration).

Looking at my Pros and Cons above it is clear I had more to say about the Pros. However I will be voting against this law come November. To me this looks like a law written using Republican 101 theories on getting support from voter by doing something for education. None of the measures look like they will actually improve education in South Dakota. In fact since the South Dakota Department of Education will need expansion to handle this new law I would say it will do nothing but waste taxpayer dollars.

So as it stands now this law will receive a NO for me next month.

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