Rep. Kristin Conzet, R-Rapid City, and Rep. David Lust, R-Rapid City, cited HB1142 which would appropriate a total of $5 million for three areas of need to South Dakota's four tech schools, including Western Dakota Technical Institute in Rapid City.
- $2.5 million would pay for technology needs.
- $1 million would go to facilities maintenance and repair.
- $1.5 million would go to boost the per-student allocation that pays for operations at the schools.
Conzet said the schools need to stay current with the technology used in the classroom.
"Tech institutes are using old or antiquated technology. When we want to stay competitive, we need to be able to fund the technology that will make them the cream of the crop," she said.
Lust said South Dakota's tuition at these schools is higher than in all surrounding states, making them uncompetitive. He said this is a symptom of an underlying problem - the fact that tech schools are governed by local school boards rather than their own board.
"I've never felt that tech schools should be governed by school districts. It's just not a good fit. Nor do I feel they should be governed by the Board of Regents," Lust said. (The Regents oversee South Dakota's public universities).
"Our tech schools need more flexibility; they need to be able to make decisions for themselves," he said. "A symptom of the lack of independence is the fact that we've become uncompetitive in the surrounding market."
HB1142 includes a provision that would allow for the establishment of "the postsecondary technical institute as a distinct separate legal entity."
K-12 funding boost
Conzet noted that K-12 education is a emerging as a dominant issue for the 2014 legislative session, with 40 bills introduced in that category.
Funding remains a top issue after Gov. Dennis Daugaard instituted 10 percent across-the-board cuts in 2011.
Conzet reported that the House Education Committee passed HB1004 on a 13-2 vote to boost K-12 funding by 3.8 percent, rather than the 3 percent recommended by the governor. Constituent pressure has been a factor, she said.
"We are listening to what you have to say on the education front," Conzet said to a smattering of applause.
Rep. Lance Russell, R-Hot Springs, said restoring K-12 funding should trump other programs.
"We have a proposed budget that includes money for hiring people for the implementation of Obamacare, for a rural lawyer subsidization program, even though we have not restored the money to K-12 education that there was prior," Russell said. "It boils down to what the priorities of the government in Pierre are. I think we have a duty to at least get back to parity where we were on K-12 education.
We should not be growing new programs."