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Secretary's Column
By Tom Oster
Department of Education

Odds and ends

--60 Minutes with the Secretary
The department will host a 60 Minutes with the Secretary teleconference for superintendents on Friday, Jan. 15, at 1 p.m. (Central Time). I plan to talk about several legislative items – among them, charter schools – and ARRA updates, including the details of South Dakota’s Race to the Top application.

--Race to the Top
As many of you are aware, the department’s Race to the Top application focuses on improving student achievement for the state’s largest group of underperforming students: American Indians. The plan calls for establishing a residential high school and two years of postsecondary with a STEM focus for Native students.

Besides impacting this critical student population, the plan does have broader applicability across the state. I will attempt to explain those connections during our 60 Minutes teleconference (noted above).

--Charter Schools
The Department of Education will run a bill this session to allow for the establishment of charter schools in South Dakota. I encourage you to review the bill online at before our teleconference.

The bill really has two major parts. The bill’s first eight pages cover charter schools established under the auspices of a local school district. Section 3 of the bill specifically states that the sponsor of a charter school shall be the school board of the district in which the school resides.

The bill is clear that a charter school can only be established with the approval of the local school board. The only exception comes in the last two pages of the bill, which outline a pilot charter school to be established under the auspices of the state Board of Education. This pilot charter school is the STEM school outlined in the Department of Education’s Race to the Top application.

Again, I plan to speak to the charter school bill during our 60 Minutes teleconference.

The department will be on Twitter throughout the legislative session, bringing you timely updates on the progress of education-related bills. I admit … this is a bit of a stretch for me. But if we’re telling our students they need to have 21st century skills, I think we, as education leaders, need to stretch ourselves as well.

If you don’t like the Twitter format, we’ve got an easy “out” for you. We will post our Twitter messages on our Department of Education homepage as well. So you can simply go to, or you can experiment with us and enter the world of social media.

--Federal Appropriations Bill
Back in December, President Obama signed into law an omnibus appropriations bill, which includes funding for the U.S. Department of Education. Overall, the bill included $63.7 billion in discretionary spending for the agency’s education programs, which is about a 2 percent increase over FY 2009. The bill includes funding for Title I grants to local education agencies; special education state grants; state grants for teacher quality; and more.