PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) –Two groups of South Dakota educators are speaking out against a legislative bill they argue would take away funding from the state’s public schools.

HB 1234

If passed, House Bill 1234 would start a voucher program requiring the Department of Education to pay for in-state private school tuition for some South Dakota students. Representative Jon Hansen of Dell Rapids says this will allow parents to be in the driver’s seat of their child’s education.

“Sometimes public school is what works best for families and that’s great, but sometimes a nonpublic school option is better for them. So this just is really designed to give families more financial freedom to choose the best educational option that works best for their kid,” Hansen said.

The South Dakota Education Association and the Associated School Boards of South Dakota worry this bill would take taxpayer money away from public schools.

“This would be another hit to our public schools who are trying to make do, and who do a very good job, but with limited resources,” Sandra Waltman, Director of Government Relations and Communications with the SD Education Association, said.

“We have a significant teacher shortage right now. We need to increase teacher salaries, on average, so we can be competitive,” Wade Pogany, Executive Director of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota, said. “Inflation is putting a burden on South Dakota budgets, school budgets. So adding another program that would essentially send money directly from the state treasury, general fund, to private schools, would have an effect that would take money away, more money away, from public schools so we couldn’t achieve those goals.”

Lauren Soulek: Representative Hansen, the worry for voucher programs like this is if this will take away funding from public schools. What do you say to that worry?

“I think that investing in our kids’ education is one of the best ways we can spend money as a state. Whether that’s at a public school or a nonpublic school, I think it’s a worthy investment to shift some resources towards the education of the future generation of South Dakotans,” Hansen said.

HB 1233

Republican Representative Scott Odenbach of Spearfish also introduced an education bill Wednesday.

House Bill 1233 would expand the provision of online education through the South Dakota Virtual School.

Odenbach says this bill would bring South Dakota education into the 21st century. But the state’s Education Association worries whether schools have the resources to offer both.

“I think we saw through the pandemic, when schools had to go both in-person and online that it was quite a challenge for the personnel. So that would be one of the main factors that we would look at,” Waltman said.

“I also think, as far as capacity issues, for some students who would be better served not in the public school classroom and maybe their parents want to have them be able to have a virtual option at home, you know, I think it could actually help classroom teachers to a large degree of some of the students that needed it or their parents wanted it, could get that could get that kind of virtual education,” Odenbach said.

House bills 1233 and 1234 have both been referred to the House Education committee. The hearings have yet to be scheduled.