Gov. Dennis Daugaard is leading the charge to get South Dakota out of last place when it comes to teacher pay.
“This is the year to act,” Daugaard said in his State of the State address Jan. 12.
A task force commissioned by Daugaard found that South Dakota’s average teacher pay was $11,888, a year lower than the average of the six states that border the Rushmore state.
His plan – raise sales tax by half a cent. It would be the first time sales tax has been raised in nearly half a century in South Dakota.
“We know that it is a heavy lift to do any tax increase, so we want it to be judicious in what we propose,” said Patrick Weber, Daugaard’s deputy policy director.
Daugaard’s plan would raise the state’s target average teacher salary to $48,500 per year.
The problem for Daugaard’s plan is that it takes two-thirds vote in each chamber to pass a tax increase.
Daugaard is relying on the support of the small Democratic caucus, but it may be his own party that could kill this plan.
House Republican Leader Brian Gosch told The Associated Press he’s concerned it won’t pass. Gosch said a group of Republicans may have a rough contingency plan by Friday. He wouldn’t say what the proposed plan would entail, but agrees it’s an issue.
Still, South Dakota remains 51st in the nation (including Washington, D.C.) in teacher pay.
“That’s not where we need to be, we need to get out of that spot,” Weber said.
At USD’s School of Education, 99 percent of graduates find employment, but often they’re heading to other states that pay more.
“Given the teacher shortage, I think it is a byproduct of people leaving the state because of teacher pay,” said USD Dean of Education Donald Easton-Brooks.
Students at USD’s program aren’t experiencing the big stressors, Easton-Brooks said.
“A lot of the students here go to Minnesota, might go to Iowa, Nebraska,” he said.
Education senior Sam McMahon said it’s a concern she talks about with her peers.
“It’s definitely a concern to people all the time,” McMahon said. “We’re stationed in South Dakota and none of them want to stay in South Dakota.”
As graduates continue to prepare to leave USD, the pipeline for teachers in South Dakota is going to grow.
Over the next five years there will be a projected 3,059 open teacher positions in the state, and there is expected to be 3,495 people to fill those positions from a number of sources, according to the Blue Ribbon’s final report.
“We only have about one teacher available for every open position we’re going to have,” Weber said.
Daugaard said this isn’t a workable solution.
“There won’t be enough new teachers in hard-to-fill disciplines,” Daugaard said. “Rural or remote districts will still struggle to hire. And the quality of education suffers when the schools cannot be selective and have to hire from a limited pool.”
So, how will the governor’s plan address this?
“I think this really attacks it in two ways,” Weber said. “One, on the pipeline side it will help students who are looking to go into education, they will be able to earn a paycheck that is more comparable with salaries in the region with teachers and not be last in the nation.”
At the same time, Weber said it also will help to have fewer teachers leave the profession.
“We really need to attack both sides and salary increase does that,” Weber said.
Other Bills We’re Watching
HB 1016 | Cut Funding to USD Building Project
This bill, in addition to increasing funds for an SDSU building project, would change the funding from USD’s planned science, health and research laboratory building attached to the new sports arena. This bill was introduced at the request of the South Dakota Board of Regents and is currently in committee.
HB 1008 | Transgender Bathroom Bill
This was one of the first bills introduced in the House for the 2016 legislative session. Basically, it would restrict access to restrooms and locker rooms in public schools to that of the student’s biological gender. ACLU of South Dakota opposes the bill. It passed committee Monday and will head to the floor.
HB 1112 | Transgender High School Athletes Bill
This measure was introduced Tuesday in Pierre. Republican lawmakers are working to void a state high school activities association policy allowing transgender students to request to play on the athletic team of their choice.
The bill voids the current South Dakota High School Activities Association policy and blocks future ones. It says that a student’s sex is what’s listed on the birth certificate. If a birth certificate lacks a designation, a student’s sex can be determined from a physical exam.
HB 1107 | Religious Freedom Bill
This measure, which was also introduced Tuesday, focuses on religious freedoms. The bill states “the state may not take any discriminatory action against a person” who doesn’t believe in gay marriage or transgender rights.
SB 67 | Needs-Based Funding
This measure requested by the governor would immediately add $2,100,000 to fund needs-based grants.
The Associated Press’ Pierre reporters contributed to this report