Empowering Families – Prioritizing Students
By: Governor Kristi Noem
February 10, 2023
You’ve heard me talk a lot over the years about helping foster families so that we can build stronger families across our state. In situations where parents aren’t able to take care of their kids, foster families step up to fill the void. Unfortunately, foster kids have to face difficult, traumatic, and disruptive events that frequently hinder them from experiencing healthy development – and that includes their development in the classroom. Foster children too often get left behind academically.
This session, I worked with legislators to propose the Stronger Families Scholarship. This legislation would have dedicated $15 million to provide additional education opportunities for kids in foster care.
The Stronger Families Scholarship would have equipped these children with more resources like tutoring, online learning programs, private school tuition, standardized achievement tests, transportation expenses, and technology. These are the kind of resources that help create an environment where children can learn, and where they can develop positive relationships with adults and reach their full potential as students.
This week, the Senate Education Committee killed that bill. In doing so, they left foster children behind once again. I am extremely disappointed in that decision. It is even more disheartening to know that their decision to kill this bill resulted from a flurry of lies.
Lobbyists with the teachers’ union and other establishment organizations killed the bill by lying about what it did.
They claimed that public schools already accept all students – the fact is that public schools do deny education to students on “individual education plans,” or IEPs, in certain circumstances. They also claimed that private schools don’t accept kids on these plans, but a foster parent who testified in support of the bill has three children with IEPs who all attend private school right now.
They also falsely claimed the bill is unconstitutional, saying that state funds cannot go to private religious schools. To the contrary, that is perfectly constitutional. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has decided three times that states are allowed to provide funds to private schools, including those with religious affiliation. These lobbyists were arguing for religious discrimination, which would violate the First Amendment.
The lobbyists lied that funding will be taken from public schools – that’s false. In fact, most of the dollars would have helped children in public schools. They argued that $4,000 is too much – but they also said it’s not enough. They said whatever they needed to confuse legislators and get them to vote no. In doing so, they did not help kids. They only hurt the foster children that this scholarship would benefit.
The most concerning claim was that this scholarship will create more confusion for foster parents. I have complete confidence that foster parents are smart enough to access these benefits for the kids in their care. It’s very simple: they only need to call the Department of Education.
Parents care about their kids’ futures, and education is a huge part of that. Americans across the country are realizing that parents need more options and more say over their kids’ education. More than 70% of American parents support more options for their kids’ schooling. They support more Freedom in education.
States across America are implementing initiatives to expand educational Freedom. Arizona is offering scholarship dollars to 1.1 million K-12 students that can be applied to any education service that best fits their individual needs. Tennessee started a scholarship to give low-income families a choice in where their kids go to school. Florida is making their flexible scholarship program a top priority, and Iowa has already passed their scholarship legislation. Arkansas just announced universal educational freedom options for every family in the state.
South Dakota is falling behind these other states, but more importantly, we are leaving South Dakota kids behind.
We are blessed to have fantastic public and private schools here in South Dakota, and parents should be able to choose the best option for their kids’ individual needs. It’s simple – every parent deserves to have a say in their child’s education.
I hope that our state legislators will seize the opportunity to expand options for parents and their kids. We must show South Dakota families that we care about them, that we care about their children’s futures, and that we care about strengthening families across South Dakota.