April 26, 2016; KELO-TV (Sioux Falls, SD)

Students at the University of South Dakota (USD) have built an elaborate map to follow the intricate relationships involved in what has become known in South Dakota as the GEAR UP scandal. The map, posted on the wall of USD’s Dakota Hall, traces the multiple governments, school districts, nonprofit agencies, private consultants, and other individuals connected to the scandal.

As NPQ has reported, the scandal first came to public attention last September. Three people charged with state felonies appeared in court today and pled not guilty to all charges, and the state’s attorney general says that more indictments will be coming in the next 60 days. In addition to the AG’s investigation, the South Dakota Auditor General is conducting an investigation of the Mid-Central Educational Cooperative and the 22 federal and state programs it administered, and the federal government is also working to learn how $62 million in South Dakota’s two GEAR UP grant awards alone were used.

Referring to the map, political science student Ben Deverman said, “We have it going all the way across the United States now. Farther than I ever thought possible until we started doing this class.” Since the investigations are ongoing, the students’ map tracking 24 individuals could become even larger and more intricate.

The map will remain on the wall until the end of summer, and students are working to create a digital version to be posted on the Internet. The students’ instructor, Marshall Damgaard, says there are two tragedies related to GEAR UP in South Dakota. “One tragedy is the horrific death of six human beings. The other one is the fact that the state of South Dakota in terms of federal and state dollars has invested $62 million since 2005 and no one has come forward with documented legitimate evidence saying how many American Indian kids have gone to college because of that investment.”

At NPQ, we’d like to see more college classes take up real-world, real-time projects like Mr. Damgaard and his students have done with South Dakota GEAR UP. They’re instructive not only of how public-private partnerships should work, but how they can go horribly wrong.—Michael Wyland