South Dakota senate kills Oceti Sakowin schools proposal

 The South Dakota Senate Chamber in Pierre. (KOTA TV)
The South Dakota Senate Chamber in Pierre. (KOTA TV) (KOTA)
Published: Feb. 2, 2021 at 7:56 AM CST
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PIERRE, S.D. (KOTA) - “Oceti Sakowin” schools face another uphill climb in the South Dakota state legislature, after having not passed the state senate by a vote of 14 to 20 (with one excused).

SB 68 would create four schools for Native American students throughout the state. Those schools would have a focus on an education steeped in Native American heritage, and be focused on ‘equaling the education playing field’ in South Dakota.

The bill’s primary sponsor, State Sen. Troy Heinert (D-Mission) told senators that two locations, one in Todd County and one in Rapid City had already been picked out. The other two were not certain yet.

The bill has drawn unusual battle lines between Republicans and Democrats.

“Regarding the economic costs,” said State Sen. Red Dawn Foster (D-Pine Ridge). “What are the economic costs to a 50% dropout rate? And it is not just the economic costs to a 50% drop out rate, I want you to think deeper... There are emotional and social costs.”

“We are always telling the Native American community that we want to hear what they have to say,” said State Sen. Jessica Castleberry (R-Rapid City). “We want to know how we can help. They have been telling us for over forty years that this is something that they feel they need.”

However, leaders from other school districts worried it could engrain charter schools into South Dakota. South Dakota is one of only a few states in the country that does not have charter schools.

“One of the things we are certainly opposed to is anything that looks, sounds, or feels like charter school legislation,” said Rob Monson, the Executive Director of the School Administrators of SD. “We are a majority public school administrators, we do have a handful of private school members, but our defense and allegiance is to public schools, and we want to make sure public dollars go to public schools.”

Debate on SB 68 ended in the state senate when Sen. Gary Cammack (R-Union Center) “called the question” on the bill. This means that a majority of the members agreed by voice vote to stop discussing the bill and go to a vote.

Heinert has a “motion to reconsider” in place, which would require a simple majority of the state senate to bring the bill back up for consideration.