Good education starts in the home. It starts with strong parents and strong families. We know that parents are responsible for a child’s upbringing and their protection. And COVID-19 underscored just how involved parents need to be in their children’s day-to-day education, as well.
It’s our duty to find innovative solutions that empower parents to set their children up for success. For some kids, the home is the best environment for them to get an individualized education that fits their needs. Senate Bill 177 amends South Dakota’s alternative education statutes. This legislation passed through the Senate this week and has my support.
Unfortunately, there’s been a lot of misinformation on what this bill does. Some folks think that more homeschooling will lead to more truancy – and this bill strengthens two elements of the state’s truancy statutes to make sure that this does not happen. It puts criminal processes in place for parents who neglect their duty to educate their children.
The bill also eliminates a testing mandate that is not currently being used in South Dakota. This test costs taxpayers $40,000 a year to conduct. If nobody is using it, then we should eliminate it, save the taxpayers those dollars, and spend them in other areas that help grow our state.
SB 177 also simplifies the notification process. This complicated process varied from school district to school district, and we’d heard from families that it was burdensome when they simply wish to educate their children. There will still be a notification process in place – this just streamlines it.
The bill also allows kids who are being homeschooled to participate. In many school districts across South Dakota – including Rapid City, our 2nd largest school district – these kids can participate in activities today. Our children shouldn’t have different opportunities based on what zip code they live in, so we’re changing that. For some of these kids, participating in activities may be just the bridge they need to make friends and get involved in a public school. This will get some of these kids back in public school over time.
Through this entire conversation, we should all remember that our goal is to give each individual child the best possible education for their specific needs. For many kids, that comes in public school. For others, parents may realize that their kid will learn better at home. We should be helping parents in those instances; we shouldn’t put roadblocks in their way.
Let’s empower parents to make whatever choice they think is best for their children. In the meantime, let’s put appropriate safeguards in place, such as the strengthening of our truancy statutes and a simplified notification process. And let’s keep our focus right where it belongs: on ensuring that every South Dakota child gets the best individualized education that will set them up for a lifetime of success.