PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota students will not be allowed to use public funding for nonpublic K-12 schools.

Republican Rep. Jon Hansen brought HB 1234 before the House Education committee Wednesday to create a voucher program for South Dakota students. The bill would provide students and parents with access to schools that aligned best with the families values and the needs of the student, Hansen told the committee.

“We should fund the students and not necessarily the systems,” Hansen said.

Lisa Nolen, a lobbyist with the South Dakota chapter of Americans for Prosperity, agreed with Hansen and testified in support of the bill.

“It’s okay to say that one system doesn’t always work for every student,” Nolen said.

Opponents of the bill said a voucher program would “erode” funding for public schools. Wade Pogany, Executive Director of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota, told committee members a vote to advance the bill and provide $46 million in funding would harm public schools and the children that they serve.

“Folks, we have 176 teaching positions open that we can’t fill, we have 50th in the ranking in teacher salaries in the nation, we have inflation over the last two years that have hit schools at 15 percent combined, we’ve added 12,000 new kids to public schools in the last 10 years,” Pogany said. “We’re just trying to keep up.”

Hansen took offense to the claim from Pogany, and other opponents, that his policy would erode public school funding.

“Ascribing a motive like that to me is, frankly, out of order,” Hansen said. “That’s not what this bill is about.”

Hansen argued that his bill strengthens the public school system by creating competition to drive programs and extracurriculars and that school choice programs have been shown to improve graduation rates.

Pogany continued his testimony by questioning how a school choice program would benefit rural and Native American students who he said do not have access to private institutions in the way that students in southeastern South Dakota do.

Lobbyists with the Sioux Falls School District, South Dakota Education Association, Large School Group and the United Schools Association testified in opposition to the bill. A spokesperson for the Bureau of Financial Management testified during the opposition saying Governor Kristi Noem was in support of the bill and asked for the committee to send the bill to appropriations. Both Hansen and the committee were confused as to whether the department was in opposition or support of the bill.

Discussion among committee members focused on the cost and the data presented by both proponents and opponents. Republican Rep. Tyler Tordsen provided the committee with statistics of proficiencies and graduation rates which he said were falling, especially for Native American students.

“We gotta get creative soon, real soon,” Tordsen told the committee.

A motion to send the bill to the 41st day, essentially killing it, passed 11-4 with Reps. Roger DeGroot, Byron Callies, Scott Moore, Tyler Tordsen, Mellissa Heermann, Amber Arlint, Brian Mulder, Tim Reisch, Stephanie Sauder, Eric Emery and Mike Stevens voting to kill it. Representatives Scott Odenbach, Bethany Soye, Fred Deutsch and Phil Jensen voted against the motion.

Virtual school bill killed; teacher vacancies bill tabled

The House Education committee also heard two other bills.

Reisch’s bill to address the “rising number rising number of teacher vacancies throughout the state and to declare an emergency” was brought before the committee

After discussions with school districts and the Department of Education where Secretary Joseph Graves told him the DOE is working on something, Reisch chose to table the bill. But, he continued, this is not a problem that will go away.

Odenbach also brought a bill that would have expanded online learning through the South Dakota Virtual School.

Sioux Falls mom Liz Blais testified in support of the bill saying that as a “reluctant homeschooler” a virtual school could benefit South Dakota families with children who “fall through the cracks.”

Jennifer Beving also spoke in support saying that some students struggle to find education options that fit their needs and sometimes private schools are geographically and financially out of reach.

“Are South Dakota schools just quitting on these kids because they’re too hard to serve? I think so,” Beving said.

Secretary Graves spoke against the bill saying that while it was well-intentioned, there are existing virtual schools in place.

Other opponents spoke to the need for more educators to run the virtual school or risk “burdening” public schools that are already short-staffed.

After discussion among the committee members, the bill was killed by a vote of 11-3 with Reps. Odenbach, Soye and Jensen being the only nay votes.