Inside the state Capitol in Pierre. (Joshua Haiar/South Dakota Searchlight)
A House panel endorsed a bill that would create a Center for American Exceptionalism at Black Hills State University on Monday.
House Bill 1070, introduced by Rep. Scott Odenbach, R-Spearfish,passed through the House Education Committee on a 9-6 vote and now heads to the House Appropriations Committee.
The bill would allocate $150,000 for the center, which would curate supplemental curriculum on American history and civic education. Teachers would not be obligated to teach the center’s lessons, nor would the lessons be folded into the official curricula for K-12 or university students in the state.
If passed and signed into law, the center would be responsible for :
- Developing an American history K-12 curriculum, including South Dakota and Native American history, that local school districts could adopt.
- Offering professional development workshops to teachers about educating children on American history, government institutions, civic engagement, civil discourse and constitutional rights.
- Overseeing the promotion and implementation of “We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution Program” at South Dakota schools.
- Developing college courses comparing communist and socialist countries to Western-style democratic countries and comparing command-style socialist economies to free-market capitalist economies throughout history.
“We’re not interested in indoctrinating students,” Odenbach told the committee. “We want students to engage in critical thinking.”
The $150,000 earmarked for the center would fund two full-time positions at BHSU during its first year of operation, Odenbach said.
Proponents were connected to BHSU or had worked directly with the “We the People” program, including a Spearfish teacher and a former employee of the Chiesman Center for Democracy. “We the People” is a course and competition that aims to teach students about governance and civic engagement.
Opponents included representatives and lobbyists for South Dakota school groups and the Bureau of Finance and Management.
The bill does not “serve a need,” said Rob Monson, with the School Administrators of South Dakota. Monson, echoing several opponents, said the framework to address curriculum is “already set up.” The state Department of Education’s Division of Learning and Instruction handles K-12 curriculum, and university curriculum is covered by the Board of Regents for college students.
Dianna Miller, with the Large School Group, also pointed to the South Dakota Board of Standards as an existing entity to handle curriculum needs. “We the People” supporters could request that the program be included in the next round of standards, she said.
“You’re bringing private entities into deciding curriculum,” Miller said. “I would caution you to be very careful about all the people you want involved in statewide education.”
Monson added that $150,000 would not be enough to cover the cost of such an organization, since larger school districts regularly spend around $400,000 for curriculum in one content area.
School districts would have the choice to use the curriculum produced by the center, Odenbach said of his proposal, and it would start out as a supplemental curriculum.
“We would be very well served to have an institute like this at one of our universities that could partner up with our K-12 and basically let the taxpayers get their money’s worth in letting all the institutions that are publicly funded work together to make education better in this state,” Odenbach said.
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