Senate Bill 66: Thrown under the bus

When one listens to the audio recording of the Education Committee hearing held in Pierre recently, we hear Rep. Lana Greenfield saying “…we’ll start with Senate Bill 66, please, this is an act to provide for creation and the funding of the Oceti [washi]…whatever it’s called…community-based schools….” https://sdpb.sd.gov/SDPBPodcast/2020/hed31.mp3?fbclid=IwAR2uMRYaoPVcr6ayCHMPQaDhw6HZeEjoaS8XGAK9AE7rtj1vNoRvbx0Hfn8#t=142

Rep. Greenfield unwittingly voiced how many people actually view the bills which grassroots groups have a hand in creating. That is, when non-Lakota people don’t bother to say “Oceti Sakowin” in the proper manner and brush this powerful phrase off by referring to it as “whatever it’s called” – it’s an excellent example of how State Legislators actually view the issues our people choose to support as unimportant.

The facts surrounding Senate Bill 66 are: (1) bill received a unanimous vote of support (7-0) in the Tribal Affairs Committee, (2) bill received a unanimous vote of support (7-0) in the Senate Education Committee, (3) bill received a unanimous vote of support (35-0) on the Senate Floor.

In addition, high profile supporters of Senate Bill 66 are the South Dakota Department of Education, all nine Tribal Education Departments, all nine tribes in South Dakota, Governor Kristi Noem and numerous parents/grandparents. Also, according to Nakina Mills, an Oglala Sioux Tribe (OST) Council representative, OST Resolution 2019-245 supporting Senate Bill 66 was approved by the tribal council.

Samantha Molter, a proponent of Senate Bill 66, raised a pair of crucial issues in her testimony. The issues raised were (1) Which of the underperforming schools in my district should I send my child? (2) No student should be limited because of an inferior education.

Every school year families at Rosebud struggle with the same questions Molter posed. That is, we must choose which underperforming school to enroll our students at to continue pursuing an inferior education.

Todd County School District has operated for decades. St. Francis Indian School transitioned from a Catholic school to a tribal school. The failure of local public and tribal schools has also been apparent for decades, as our dropout rates are off the charts. There are many Lakota students who didn’t or couldn’t finish their high school program.

I heard people testify in the SB66 hearing that community-based schools created under the State Department of Education would duplicate services. However, the duplication of needed services is a misconception. The fact is a large segment of our Lakota students are not being offered the opportunity to succeed in our public and tribal school systems. The 50 percent dropout rate of our tribal students all across this state attests to this fact.

When our dropout rate hovers around 50 percent, there have to be drastic measures to ensure our students are equipped with an adequate education to succeed in life. I commend the hard work done on Senate Bill 66 by the South Dakota Education Equity Coalition members. This group wants our tribal students – who are falling through the cracks of our inferior education system on the Rosebud Reservation – to have a better chance at a successful adult life. Yet, at the end of the hearing on Senate Bill 66, a way to provide a meaningful Lakota cultural education – as well as a viable alternative to our inferior school systems – was thrown under the bus over funding.

Kudos to the Oglala Lakota County School District for the new Career Tech High School, I hope this new school will provide alternative educational opportunities for Oglala Lakota students to succeed at the career of their choice.

However, it’s extremely unfortunate that several OLCSD employees felt the need to speak against the establishment of community-based schools. At Rosebud, we are now left with underperforming schools and an inferior education for many Sicangu Lakota students.

Vi Waln (Lakota) is an award-winning Journalist. She can be reached through email viwaln@gmail.com 

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