SD House Education committee backs Noem education realignment

The bill failed on a mostly party line vote, after passing through the State-Tribal Relations committee unanimously last year.
Published: Jan. 27, 2021 at 10:41 AM CST
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PIERRE, S.D. - The South Dakota State House’s Education Committee backed a controversial move by Governor Kristi Noem Wednesday. The move, from 2019, put the Office of Indian Education (OIE) under the jurisdiction of the State-Tribal Relations Department, after having been under the Department of Education for the previous two governors.

The committee voted 12 to 3 to move the bill to the “41st day,” effectively killing it.

The State-Tribal Relations committee recommended the bill, HB 1044, unanimously in October of 2020, saying that the executive order was done with little to no consultation with South Dakota’s tribes. HB 1044 would have returned the Office of Indian Education to the Department of Education.

All nine of South Dakota’s Native American tribes opposed moving OIE from the Department of Education originally.

Secretary of State-Tribal Relations Dave Flute and a representative from the South Dakota Department of Education testified against the bill. Flute provided examples of a number of outreach programs that had been created since OIE had been moved, and said that there had not been enough time to determine the results of the move, particularly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Department of Education is a regulatory agency, State-Tribal (Relations) is not,” said Flute. “This allows (the Office of) Indian Education more flexibility in approaching learning opportunities for native children.”

Current State-Tribal Relations chairman State Rep. Shawn Bordeaux (D-Mission) was the bill’s primary sponsor. He, and a number of native education activists, testified in favor of it.

Bordeaux suggested that the move itself could eventually be challenged legally, given the nature of federal dollars at play. “All we want, is we want it back where it was,” said Bordeaux.

Legislators on the committee expressed sympathy for both sides of the argument.

“I see myself as a judge presiding over a (custody) fight for children,” said committee chairwoman State Rep. Lana Greenfield (R-Doland). “Have we given this enough time in the new department? In the final analysis, what is best for the children?”

“Education starts at home, the environment we are in,” said State Rep. Sam Marty (R-Prairie City). “By putting it on one side or another, it is not going to fix it for the Native American children.”

A number of legislators also expressed appreciation for the debate, and vowed to keep an eye on the issue of Native American education moving forward.

Citing a lack of communication, Rep. Bordeaux made reference to another bill that he is sponsoring during the hearing, HB 1103. That bill would give the State-Tribal Relations committee subpoena powers. Secretary Flute and other members of Governor Noem’s staff have refused to appear before the State-Tribal Relations committee up to this point, citing poor treatment by committee members.