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I had heard through the grapevine that there were two new bills being introduced in South Dakota specific to early childhood education. Bill 155 dealt with starting a preschool pilot program, simplified meaning that 2000 income qualifying families would have access to $2500 each to help with tuition. Bill 156 focused on the development of an early learning council. This council would combine individuals from sixteen different sectors to come together as a state to discuss all ideas/concerns/future planning for early childhood education in South Dakota. South Dakota is one of only six states that does not have an early learning council.
There’s a lot that I could say about the details of both bills. If you are interested in the read, you can find Bill 155 and Bill 156 in the links I have provided. You can even tune into a podcast of the Senate Education Committee Hearing where the bills were presented. It is about two hours long, but if you care to hear my testimony starts at about 11 minutes in, although the entire hearing is worth a listen.
I mentioned earlier that I had heard that these two bills were being presented. I serve on several boards and advocacy groups, and only one had even mentioned the bills in passing during a conference call on January 25th. That call provided about as much detail as I have given you (maybe one or two sentences). I have been doing a bit of research lately on federal policies and interacting with lawmakers for a different trip I have coming up and so I began to research the legislative process at the state level.
I have to admit politics are something I have only ever been peripherally invested in. I generally have enough information to know who I want to vote for, but beyond that my knowledge is very sparse. I used to fall asleep in my high school Government class, not because it wasn’t interesting but more-so because it was right after lunch (sorry Mr. Randall). Those who are politically inclined may read this and think “How could she not know this or that?” It’s important to look outside of our realm of knowledge, and to approach some situations with a sense of, “How would the uninformed look at this?” I’m the first to admit I’m uninformed about a lot of things!
Through my research I discovered that the legislative session is NOW so these bills would be introduced very soon. On February 5th (Super Bowl Sunday) I figured out that both bills had been read on February 1st. I E-subscribed to follow the bills, this way I would receive emailed updates to my inbox. On Tuesday, February 7th at about 4:30 pm I received an email that stated the bills were scheduled for the Senate Education Committee Hearing Thursday, February 9th at 7:45 am CT.
For about the next 38 hours I contacted one of my fellow advocates to see if she could go, I researched protocol and the best way to deliver my message, and of course drove the three hours to our state capitol (I also slept a little). I want to share with you the top four things I took away from this experience:
The State of South Dakota does not provide public information on how to become involved in state government
There are several states that provide great information on how to testify at legislative hearings, such as Wisconsin, North Dakota, and Hawaii. Because I am a stickler for detail, I called the information line at the capitol in Pierre to verify the guidelines were the same here. They said they would leave a “sticky note” on the Chair of the Committee’s desk to call me and answer that question. If I had waited for that call back I wouldn’t have made it to Pierre because I am still waiting. Someone would eventually find me dead at my desk and my epitaph would read, “The senator never called her back.”
Politics can be ugly
While there are hundreds of people who supported my decision to go, there is always pushback. There are the opponents to the bills, but there are also a lot of people working in the early childhood education industry who don’t see the benefit of moving forward. They either don’t understand the changes, or they see no reason to change. It is so vital that we continue to have these conversations, on BOTH sides. This way we can try to meet in the middle and do what is best for young children.
Advocacy is more important than ever
If I hadn’t stumbled into this information, early childhood education wouldn’t have had ANY representation at this hearing. The other testifiers were from other professional groups, and though their presence was important, it was ludicrous that no one IN OUR INDUSTRY would’ve been there. Is it because professionals who are passionate are tired of being ignored? Is it because our next generation of professionals don’t know how they can make an impact? We’re watching the kids and helping them grow, but who’s in charge of watching us and helping us grow?
It wasn’t (that) scary
The hearing was really an opportunity to have a conversation with the senators on the committee. They were supportive and interested in what I had to say. The number one piece of advice I would give, is to try to think like a lawyer and guess what the opposing side is going to say, because you can’t stand up in the middle of the hearing and yell, “That’s not true!” or “That data is erroneous!” You have to anticipate what they might say and address it when you speak.
The only poor grade I received in high school was in Debate. I got a D and it brought down my whole grade point average. I don’t like to argue, and I guess I missed the class description that said “debate means arguing.” Being an advocate isn’t only for the passionate “Young (Political Party) of America,” or those who relish in the political process, or only for those who not only aced Debate, but were on the Debate team. Being an advocate is an important part of walking the walk. Anybody can talk the talk and complain. Advocates raise awareness and keep the conversation going, even when their bills are deferred to the forty first day. If you don’t know what that means you’ll have to look it up!
As always thank you for tuning in to Early Education Plantation. Comment. Connect. Cultivate Change.
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