Monthly Archives: April 2013

Teach For America faces questions w/update

Legislators on the joint Government Operations and Audit Committee want Teach For America director James Curran of Minneapolis to meet with them May 14 to answer questions they have about TFA. Basically they’re looking for proof that it makes a difference. The panel’s chairman, Rep. Dan Dryden, R-Rapid City, sent to Curran a list of nine topics they want him to address.

1) How long has the program functioned in South Dakota schools?

2) How many folks/teachers have participated in the program since it started? (Average per year and 2012-2013 school year)

3) Which schools used the program? How many of the schools are funded by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs?

4) How many of the Teach For America participants stayed for more than two years? What is the average length of stay?

5) The letter states that students scores provided by the state Department of Education don’t reflect positive impact of the program. Curran is asked to provide the performance metrics and show what are the specific measureable goals to prove the program is working.

6) What is the total dollar amount of students loans that has been written off because of participation in South Dakota?

7) Curran is asked to provide specific data showing the program has improved student scores.

8) How does TFA compare to the program offered by Black Hills State University?

9) Curran is asked to provide “a total and detailed financial report covering the total life of the program in South Dakota” including private and public amounts.

In addition to Dryden, the committee members from the House are Democrat Susan Wismer of Britton and Republicans Justin Cronin of Gettysburg, Melissa Magstadt of Watertown and Mark Mickelson of Sioux Falls. The senators are Democrat Angie Buhl of Sioux Falls and Republicans Larry Tidemann of Brookings, Jean Hunhoff of Yankton, Corey Brown of Gettysburg and Phyllis Heineman of Sioux Falls. Tidemann is the vice chairman. Heineman has been the leading supporter of Teach For America in the Legislature. A $250,000 line item of funding for Teach For America was passed into law this year as part of HB 1137.

UPDATE: De Knudson reported that James Curran lives at Mission. The committee’s letter was sent to a Minneapolis address. Knudson said she and her husband, Dave, are hosting a fundraiser to benefit Teach For America with Scott and Susan Heidepriem on May 23 in Sioux Falls. Knudson and Heidepriem are former Republican and Democratic legislators who were candidates for governor in 2010. Each lost to Gov. Dennis Daugaard, Knudson in the Republican primary and Heidepriem in the general election.

Driving to prison

The U.S. Department of Justice released information today about the sentencing of a woman from Mission for assault with a dangerous weapon. The weapon was the pickup truck she was driving. Dadra Connors, 35, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Roberto Lange to 30 months in custody, two years of supervised release and $100 to the crime victims fund. She pleaded guilty in January. Last May 20, she drove the truck toward a person walking across a gravel road. He dove into the ditch. A second person was ejected from the truck’s cargo area and was hurt.

No restrictions on gifts in South Dakota?

I need to look deeper at this when I have more time. But after reading a Washington Post story about the gifts received by the Virginia governor, I checked the National Conference of State Legislatures website regarding gifts restrictions for the states. NCSL needed just two words — “No restrictions” — to summarize South Dakota. Every other state in the NCSL list appeared to have at least something affecting its legislators and state elected officials.

A quick check of the South Dakota Constitution doesn’t appear to support the “No restrictions” description, however. In Article III, there is section 28, addressing bribery and corrupt solicitation of officers. It seems specific and extremely restrictive. Read it here:

The only catch would be giving something without any intent to influence. But then why would somebody give it?

The significance of public records laws

Last week state Game, Fish and Parks Secretary Jeff Vonk followed South Dakota law and released the name of the person who bought a bighorn sheep hunting license at a fundraising auction. There wasn’t an unreasonable delay. He issued a formal response to the two reporters and an interested individual who had requested the information. We know there was discussion within GFP whether the name had to be released. Because of improvements made in South Dakota’s public records laws during the past decade, GFP didn’t appear to have discretion in this instance. Two days after the license was formally issued, the identity was released.

In 2011, penalty provisions were added to the public-record chapter of state laws. The prime sponsor of that important legislation was Sen. Al Novstrup, R-Aberdeen. At the time some people said it was a personal agenda, because he was stone-walled by the then-head of the James River Water Development District. But others saw the broader significance. One was his lead sponsor in the House, Rep. Charlie Hoffman, R-Eureka. That bill’s co-sponsors included some of the most conservative and some of the most liberal members of the Legislature. The Novstrup-Hoffman law was a message to all parts of state and local government in South Dakota that public-records laws cannot be ignored.

Minnesota and Vikings gamble on new gambling

This story from the Minneapolis Star Tribune today is worth your time. Two points seems especially noteworthy. The state government of Minnesota is betting on several new forms of gambling to help pay for the new stadium of the Minnesota Vikings. And one of those new forms was supposed to generate $35 million in its first year but is producing at a $1.7 million pace. As an aside, states and the NFL should drop the pretense and decide whether to legalize gambling on NFL games; it’s happening illegally.

New ag secretary will have new deputy

The appointment of Lucas Lentsch as state secretary of agriculture by Gov. Dennis Daugaard takes effect as Walt Bones heads back to the farm after two years in the post. Also gone as part of the transition is Jon Farris, who was deputy secretary. He let people know today he’s no longer with the department. Lentsch thanked Farris for his 19 years of service there. “His respect and caring for South Dakota’s farm and ranch families has made him friend to all,” Lentsch said.

Lentsch said he hasn’t identified a replacement deputy at this time. He said he plans “a deep dive” with each member of the department’s leadership team to assess their talent and vision and the skill sets of their teams. He said he’ll use the first few weeks for internal analysis. He knows many of the staff to varying degrees from his previous time as director for the ag development division. He had left to join a wealth management firm last summer, reuniting at the same office with Bob Gray, but came back to succeed Bones. Lentsch was executive director for the South Dakota Republican Party and Gray, then a state senator, was state chairman during the Republicans’ highly successful 2010 election campaigns. “With agriculture’s dominance and relevance to our state’s economy, we have a lot of work to do to keep doing well. Fortunately, we have a very dedicated group of South Dakotans serving the people of South Dakota,” Lentsch said.

Thune, Johnson split on holding vote on sales tax bill

Well, well. On Thursday evening, Republican U.S. Sen. John Thune voted against invoking cloture on S.B. 743, aka the Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013. Meanwhile Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson voted for cloture. Johnson’s stand put him on the side favoring passage of the legislation, which would allow states to collect sales tax on purchases made over the Internet from businesses outside of their state borders. The cloture vote succeeded 63-30. The Senate now can proceed to the vote for final passage.

What led Thune to vote nay is hard to say. Where he votes in the end perhaps will be in favor of the bill. South Dakota for the past 12 years has fought for a streamlined sales tax system for the nation. Three successive Republican governors — Bill Janklow, Mike Rounds and Dennis Daugaard — support this effort.

It’s hard to decipher what was going on today. From North Dakota, Democrat Heidi Heitkamp voted aye while Republican John Hoeven voted nay. Minnesota’s two Democrats voted aye, while Montana’s two Democrats voted nay. Nebraskas’s two Republicans voted aye. Wyoming’s Mike Enzi, the bill’s sponsor, voted aye, of course, but his fellow Republican, John Barrasso, was a nay. Iowa’s Republican Chuck Grassley voted nay, while Democrat Tom Harkin was an aye.

Of the 30 nays, 25 came from Republicans, including presidential prospects Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell was a nay, while Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid was a yea.


Intriguing choice for new president at School of Mines

Heather Wilson, a Republican former member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New Mexico, is the new president for the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. The state Board of Regents announced her selection from a group of four finalists during a meeting today on the university’s campus in Rapid City. As evidence of her stature in the scientific and political communities, just last month she was appointed by U.S. House Speaker John Boehner as one of a dozen members of a new federal commission that will make recommendations for improving the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees the Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories. Wilson, 52, succeeds the late Robert Wharton, who died in September. Wilson has been operating her own company that advises major national laboratories. She was a member of the U.S. House for 10 years and six months and lost runs for the U.S. Senate in 2008 and 2012. She is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, a Rhodes scholar and served seven years in the Air Force followed by work for the National Security Council. She later formed her own business in New Mexico advising businesses on international trade and was appointed to the cabinet of then-Gov. Gary Johnson in 1995, where she specialized in education and children’s health. She won a special election for the U.S. House in 1998. Duane Hrncir, a member of the university’s administration, has served in the role of interim president since Wharton’s death. Hrncir was one of the four finalists.

The generosity of Van and Barb Fishback

The semi-annual membership drive is under way on South Dakota Public Radio, and a Brookings couple promises to match dollar for dollar any ongoing donation, up to $250 each. The offer from Van and Barbara Fishback is called the Evergreen program. There aren’t many ways in life an average citizen can double her or his money. This is one. The fundraising drive continues through Saturday. SDPB is an important public resource in South Dakota and relies heavily on donations.

Tipping our caps to Mark Ellis

He’s 35. He’s hitting .348. He’s from Rapid City, played for Post 22 and currently is with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He hit the 100th home run of his major league career last night, and then hit No. 101. We’re told the last time Mark Ellis delivered two home runs in the same game was June 17, 2008, when he was with the Oakland A’s. Keep rocking. You still got it.