A bill that would use state funds to double the size of a teaching program on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations is moving through the South Dakota Legislature.
Senate Bill 139 would appropriate state funds to the Department of Education to bring in more teachers through the Teach for America program, which recruits graduating college students to teach for two years in low-income urban and rural schools in the U.S.
Fifty-five Teach for America recruits now teach in South Dakota on or near the reservations. The bill would provide funds for Teach for America to expand that number to 100 by 2015.
Phyllis Heineman, R-Sioux Falls, who sponsored the bill, said there is only one applicant for each empty teaching position on South Dakota's Native American reservations, and increasing the Teach for America corps in the state would ensure every classroom has a teacher.
The bill allocates $1 million to Teach for America to be granted over four years so the program can bring more teachers to the state. The dollar amount will be amended before the final version passes, Heineman said.
Heineman wanted to appropriate $1.5 million for the program to be used if private donors matched the funds. Teach for America has said it will take $5 million to bring in nearly 50 additional teachers and plans to do that over the next four years, Heineman said.
Jim Bradford, D-Pine Ridge, said Native American children need support but that boosting the Teach for America program is not the best way to provide it. Instead, the state should allocate funds to train and pay local teachers, he said.
"We have a lot of students in college right now who are willing to be teachers who are probably going to not be able to finish because they can't afford it," Bradford said. "There's still a lot of expense to going to school and being a teacher."
Bradford voted for the bill and said that if he did not, his constituents would be upset.
"I'm not against giving them something and helping them some, but I'd just like to see it. I'd like to see us sufficiently fund our teachers right now," he said.
The bill passed the Senate 29-3 and is now in the House Education Committee.
Contact Ruth Moon at 394-8415 or firstname.lastname@example.org.