In South Dakota, the Senate race has included debates about health care, energy, campaign finance, and EB-5 Immigrant visas, but education has largely taken a backseat. However, the four men running for the US Senate all claim to want education reform, with each having different ideas about how they would “reshape” America’s education policy.
David Montgomery of the Argus Leader writes that the boldest proposal may be Republican Mike Rounds’ idea to repeal the federal Department of Education. Rounds is of the opinion that South Dakota can run its own schools.
“If you talk to the folks in the South Dakota Department of Education, I think you would feel the frustration they feel trying to comply with federal bureaucratic demands. Local school boards are very capable of making the vast majority of decisions on how we educate our kids.”
His proposal does not include cutting out the money the state receives from federal government, but instead converts the money into “block grants” states could spend at the discretion of those in charge of education.
None of the other candidates agree with Rounds, although independent Gordon Howie does want to “pull back the tentacles of the federal government in education”, while stating that the Department of Education “can serve a useful purpose”.
Independent Larry Pressler and Democrat Rick Weiland both defended the Department of Education. Pressler noted that he would not have had speech therapy for his childhood stutter were it not for DOE regulations. Weiland said that if governors were given blocks of money, they would direct it elsewhere unless it was specified for a specific program by the DOE.
Howie is focusing his efforts on fighting the Common Core, championed by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and devised by a group of education stakeholders and governors. Rounds thinks the Common Core is a good thing, but has concerns for how the standards are implemented in schools.
Rounds added that he he would fight for increased spending on higher education, including money for research, Stafford loans, and Pell grants. He and Weiland are also for allowing graduates to refinance their federal student loans at lower interest rates. Weiland wants to expand children’s access to preschool.
It is difficult to know which party will cross the finish line first and be awarded control over the chamber, says Don Gonyea of NPR. South Dakota, a conservative state, did not see this last minute battle coming. Weiland, a businessman who was on Sen. Tom Daschle’s staff, is running as a populist in support of economic fairness. He showed up at Union Hall in Sioux Falls with his guitar and sang Johnny Cash songs.
Pressler, a former Republican US senator, arrived at the regular meeting of the poetry club in Sioux Falls and read a poem by Baxter Black, “Cowboy is His Name”. The Republican front-runner, Rounds has the backing of the Tea Party Express.
“In South Dakota, we literally, we’re very, very tired of what’s going on in Washington, D.C. This truly is a challenge, this is, to find out whether or not we really believe in the policies of this president. This is a question of whether or not we want to continue these failed policies,” he says.
Rounds’ early lead in the race is diminishing, with Weiland only 3 or 4 points behind him, and, according to some data, Pressler running a strong third. One big problem that could be effecting Rounds’ numbers is a controversial state-administered, federal program that was created during Rounds’ time as governor, allowing investors from other countries to earn a green card. Democrats say that Rounds was “selling citizenship” and had a “shady offshore corporation to keep the scheme afloat”. Rounds says there were no “improprieties”. Meanwhile, independent Pressler is running a low-budget campaign and is being accused of not being a serious candidate. South Dakota is staging an out-of-the-ordinary US Senate race which will definitely have an impact on the midterm election map.
For an issue by issue explanation of where the candidates stand, the Huffington Post‘s online blog has published the findings of the Campus Election Engagement Project guide. They declare these findings to be an unbiased, no-spin comparison of the candidates’ positions on key issues.