Phonics training is among the winners as budget panel plows through spending requests

PIERRE – The Legislature’s budget committee endorsed a bill Friday to spend $3 million on phonics-based reading instruction for elementary teachers, and the committee also dealt with a raft of other proposals ahead of a deadline to advance spending bills to the House and Senate.

Earlier in the week, state Education Secretary Joe Graves told the Joint Appropriations Committee that state universities are already training the next generation of teachers in the phonics-based approach to instruction

Q&A: The long road to 'Short Walk,' a new podcast on the Ravnsborg accident and impeachment

Jason Ravnsborg’s commitment to crisscrossing the state in his car led to his success and his downfall, according to the producer of a new podcast about the former South Dakota attorney general.

Before Ravnsborg’s involvement in a crash that killed a pedestrian, he defined himself in part by the long drives he made to political and official functions.

“One thing I’m good at is driving,” Ravnsborg said at a public meeting just months before the crash.

Details like that are woven throughout Lee

South Dakota was tardy with a gold tax. Can it afford to sleep on lithium?

When lawmakers convened in Pierre during the depths of the Great Depression in 1935, they faced a vote on “possibly the most widely advertised and discussed piece of legislation that has ever been brought before the South Dakota Legislature.”

That’s how proponents of a tax on gold mining described their bill.

Gold was famously discovered nearly six decades earlier in the Black Hills, so you might wonder why the state lacked a gold tax as late as 1935.

The answer is simple: Until that year, le

Lawmakers endorse summer children’s food program, nix expansion of reduced price school meals

A bill to include South Dakota in a summer food program for children advanced to the next step of the legislative process Wednesday in Pierre, while legislation to expand eligibility for reduced price school meals was rejected.

Lawmakers moved a bill forward that addresses the federal government’s Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer Program for Children. It provides eligible low-income families with $40 per child, per month in preloaded cards to buy groceries during the summer months.

Food is c

Teacher pay mandates pass committee without promise of new funding

A bill requiring public schools to raise teacher pay with no promise of new state funding passed a legislative committee Wednesday in Pierre.

Nobody testified against the legislation, but several lobbyists representing the education community called it a work in progress.

“It is not a perfect bill, but a compromise that will hopefully help us attract new teachers and retain the current, experienced teachers, and bring quality education to the students in the state of South Dakota,” said Dianna

State Supreme Court clarifies conflicts of interest; Noem pledges to fill legislative seats

Legislators can have contracts with state government if the money comes from the annual budget bill, but not if the money comes from any other bill.

That’s the gist of a state Supreme Court opinion issued Friday. Immediately after the opinion’s release, Gov. Kristi Noem said it will free her up to make appointments for two empty seats in the Legislature, both from districts in the Rapid City area.

“My team is reviewing this decision and will be announcing legislative appointments very soon,” N

Sales tax revenue is still available as a fix for nationally bottom-dwelling teacher pay

My heart sank as Mrs. Konechne expressed her disappointment with the class.

She’d assigned us to write a humorous personal essay, and she’d given us plenty of instruction. She expected better, and she was going to get it by making us all do a rewrite.

My pulse jumped at the sight of red ink all over my paper as it landed on my desk. When Mrs. Konechne whispered her request for me to stay after class, I wanted to disappear.

Then I read the handwritten notes. They were all positive — effusive,

Scramble is on for state's remaining federal pandemic aid

South Dakota has $130 million of federal pandemic aid left and an abundance of ideas about how to spend it.

The requests from legislators are more than double the available funding.

“A lot of hands are already in that bucket, and that bucket is only so deep,” said Paul Lepisto, a lobbyist for the Izaak Walton League, which is a national conservation group.

He made the remarks to the Senate State Affairs Committee last week at the Capitol in Pierre. Lepisto testified against a bill that would

Noem confirms $1.3 million of border assistance was a gift to Texas

PIERRE — Governor Kristi Noem confirmed Thursday that when she sent South Dakota National Guard troops to help Texas secure the U.S.-Mexico border, she did so with the understanding that the costs would not be reimbursed.

“If you look at the amount of dollars that Texas has spent in protection of the southern border, which is a federal government responsibility, it’s over $4 billion,” Noem said. “And so they were very clear: ‘You can come and help us, but this will be a financial responsibility

Texas hasn't repaid South Dakota for help at the border

Texas has not repaid South Dakota for assistance at the Texas-Mexico border even though similar mutual-aid agreements between South Dakota and other states have typically involved reimbursement, according to legislators and state officials.

That revelation came Tuesday, one day before Governor Kristi Noem was scheduled to address a joint session of the Legislature about what she foreshadowed as a “potential South Dakota response” to problems at the border.

Noem approved South Dakota National G

Does Kristi Noem believe in Freedom, or just freedom? The scandalous truth.

Gov. Kristi Noem really likes freedom. Not just little freedom. She likes big Freedom, and even bigger FREEDOM.

She reached the apotheosis of her freedom fetish during her recent State of the State address, when she used the word 38 times in 39 minutes. In the published text of the speech, every instance of the word included a capital “F.”

Noem capitalizes the “F” in freedom every time she writes it — not only in published speeches, but also on social media and in her weekly columns. I emailed

An alternative proposal for the Wounded Knee medal problem

Some of the soldiers who participated in the killing of hundreds of Native American men, women and children 133 years ago today at Wounded Knee are still officially honored as heroes.

Poorly written citations have confused the issue of how many soldiers received the Medal of Honor specifically for their participation in the massacre, but it’s believed to be 19, according to the latest scholarship.

The decision to glorify those soldiers for the slaughter at Wounded Knee can be understood, thoug

Forest Service issues draft approval of drilling plan above Spearfish Canyon, with restrictions

A federal agency has provisionally approved a company’s plan to conduct exploratory drilling for gold above Spearfish Canyon.

The company is Colorado-based Solitario Resources. Project maps show some of the proposed drill sites are less than a mile back from the canyon rim in the Black Hills National Forest, about 15 miles southwest of Spearfish.

“None of the proposed drill sites are located in Spearfish Canyon,” says a draft decision issued Tuesday by the U.S. Forest Service.

The bottom of t

Nonprofit launches zebra mussel study and accuses state of 'capitulation'

A nonprofit is launching a study on the economic impact of the zebra mussel invasion in South Dakota and accusing state government of a lackluster response to the problem.

The South Dakota Lakes and Streams Association, based in Sioux Falls, said Monday it will spearhead a $107,000 study. It’s designed to provide legislators and other government leaders information to better protect the state’s lakes and rivers, the association said.

The state has been “throwing up its hands in capitulation,”

The cost of free land and either-or history

Some white South Dakotans love to talk about their generational connection to the land. I’m one of them: a proud, fifth-generation descendant of Dakota Territory homesteaders.

The federal government awarded nearly 100,000 parcels of free land to South Dakota settlers via the 1862 Homestead Act and successive rounds of related legislation. Modern South Dakotans celebrate that legacy in myriad ways, including an annual State Fair ceremony honoring farms and ranches owned by the same family for 10

$1.5 billion of construction planned for new bombers at Ellsworth

RAPID CITY — The Air Force will spend $1.5 billion on 35 construction projects to accommodate new bomber planes at a base near Rapid City, according to the base commander.

Nine projects are underway, said Col. Derek Oakley, who leads the 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth Air Force Base. He spoke Friday to the Black Hills Forum and Press Club.

“If you see an airman downtown, pat them on the back and tell them you’ve got their back, because they’re tired,” Oakley said. “There’s a lot going on right no

Congressman preaches civility to hundreds of high school students

Members of the other political party aren’t evil, journalists aren’t the enemy, and watching a lot of cable TV news isn’t a good idea.

That’s a sampling of comments Monday from U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-South Dakota, who hosted his inaugural Level Up Youth Conference at Western Dakota Technical College in Rapid City. Hundreds of students attended from local and area high schools.

Johnson is fresh off a bruising several weeks in Washington, D.C., where the House of Representatives ousted its s

Forest Service floats fee increase as latest response to Black Hills UTV surge

There was a time years ago when Travis Bies didn’t worry as much about cattle escaping his Black Hills pastures.

“Every Monday, you had to be there and check your gates to make sure they were closed,” Bies said. “Now, I’ve had to hire a full-time person to be there every day.”

That’s because so many more people are driving utility task vehicles — known as UTVs, or as “side-by-sides” due to their multiple seats — and are failing to close the gates they open.

Escaped cattle are one impact from

Navigator cancels its carbon pipeline project

A company that sought to build a $3 billion carbon sequestration pipeline in South Dakota and several other states announced Friday that it’s giving up on the plan.

“Given the unpredictable nature of the regulatory and government processes involved, particularly in South Dakota and Iowa, the Company has decided to cancel its pipeline project,” said a news release from Navigator CO2.

The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission unanimously denied a permit for Navigator’s Heartland Greenway proj

Proposed bentonite mine takes next step; Homestake bond raised

A state board approved a step forward for a proposed bentonite mine and increased the required bond amount to protect the state from expenses related to a closed gold mine.

The Board of Minerals and Environment, consisting of nine members appointed by the governor, met in a telephone conference on Thursday.

Texas-based Bentonite Performance Minerals won approval of its contractor for a required socioeconomic assessment of the effects of the company’s proposed bentonite mine. The contractor is

State breaks ground on $60 million women’s prison in Rapid City

RAPID CITY — While controversy continues over the site of a proposed new penitentiary near Sioux Falls, the state Department of Corrections is proceeding with a plan to build a new women’s prison on the other side of South Dakota.

State officials broke ground for the women’s prison Monday in Rapid City.

“I’m very happy to be here today and very proud of the work and the collaboration that has been happening over the course of the last six months,” said Kellie Wasko, state corrections secretary

Noem-Lewandowski relationship doesn't have to be an affair to be inappropriate

After reporting that Gov. Kristi Noem is allegedly having an extramarital affair, Ken Silverstein suffered a memory lapse.

It happened on the Dakota Town Hall podcast. The hosts wanted to know if Silverstein’s Sept. 15 story about Noem was his first about South Dakota politics.

Silverstein struggled with his answer — “I don’t think that’s possible, because I honestly feel like I’ve covered …” — until one of the hosts interrupted. The host suggested Silverstein had probably written about former

Regents request control of whistleblower hotline; Noem says 'no planned changes'

RAPID CITY — The board that oversees South Dakota’s public universities has requested control over the governor’s whistleblower hotline for higher education, but the Governor’s Office said there are “no planned changes.”

News of the request came from Jeff Partridge, a member of the Board of Regents, during a meeting Thursday on the South Dakota Mines campus in Rapid City.

“We’re hoping that will be heard and received as far as us taking that over in the near future,” he said.

Gov. Kristi Noem

How two dead South Dakotans continue to feed the world

There are politicians who spend their entire careers pursuing power and fame, and there are others who set aside those ambitions long enough to make a lasting difference.

A reminder of that truism arrived recently in the form of a news release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The release said the department is awarding a combined $455 million of funding through two international food initiatives: Food for Progress, and the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrit
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