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SDPB Radio Coverage of the South Dakota Legislature. See all coverage and find links to audio and video streams live from the Capitol at www.sdpb.org/statehouse

Education: Local Control Versus State Oversight

By Victoria Wicks
Republicans say educators send mixed messages whether they want state or local control, depending on the issue. Organizations of school boards, administrators, and teachers oppose the sentinel bill, which allows school boards to decide whether to arm school personnel. And teachers successfully fought a proposal to allow school boards to opt out of continuing contracts. But legislators say educators insist on local control in other matters.
At a weekly legislative news conference with three GOP leaders, Representative Jacqueline Sly says last year’s debate over House Bill 1234 produced arguments illustrating the dilemma. That bill sought to overhaul teachers’ pay, evaluations, and incentives.
 “At that time there were many people who said, ‘We want local control. We do not want the state deciding these things.’ And all through the election season, there were postcards, there were a lot of media messages, saying ‘We want local control.’ And so then this year, say for example when the sentinel bill came out, it was like, ‘No, we don’t want local control on that.’ So it’s a mixed message for us as policymakers,” Sly says.
The sentinel bill she mentions has cleared the House but has not yet been heard in the Senate.
Representative Jon Hansen says the legislature sets a wide range of statewide policies to direct local school districts.
“But then it should be left to the local school districts to set certain areas of curriculum and do things that… you know, we as a legislature that meets only two months out of the year really shouldn’t have anything to do with,” Hansen says.
He adds that people at the local level are competent to make those decisions.
Senator Larry Rhoden says statewide consistency is not possible because there are so many variables from one district to the next.
“We have 151 school districts with 151 different sets of circumstance, all different students, different geography, different personalities, different school boards,” he says. “So I think it’s altogether appropriate that as much as possible, we give those school boards the discretion.”
The state legislature has considered a number of bills this session, in education and in other areas, that pit local control against statewide regulation.

For SDPB, I’m VW reporting from Pierre.