State needs to fund teacher pay increases

Unfunded mandates.

By definition, an unfunded mandate is a statute or regulation that requires a state or local government to perform certain actions, with no money provided for fulfilling the requirements.

Such is the case of increasing teacher pay in South Dakota. 

Since 2016, school districts in the state have been held accountable for increasing teacher pay, but other than the year one, the promised increases have been hard to come by when calculating their state aid.

Local school boards know that money is tight and board members can’t decide to raise teacher salaries with money the state doesn’t give them.

Under then-governor Dennis Daugaard, there was a major overhaul of the state aid funding formula in 2016 shifting the focus from funding based on the number of students a district has to funding based on student-teacher ratios.

The reform came with a half-cent increase in the state sales tax which was supposed to help fund the teacher pay increase. It did, and in that first year, teacher salaries increased an average of 8 percent. 

That was the objective of a Blue Ribbon Task Force brought together by Daugaard in 2015 to address low teacher pay, a looming teacher shortage and school district financing.

One of the centerpieces of the 2016 K-12 Education Package was the goal of achieving a statewide average teacher salary of $48,500. School districts are still responsible for meeting the state’s target teacher salary, but the money to do so has dried up.

At a town-hall type meeting in Rapid City following Gov. Kristi Noem’s 2021 budget address, Curt Pochart of the Rapid City School Board asked if schools are still going to be expected to meet the state’s target salary for teachers even though there will be no increase in funds for the state’s school districts.

“Is taking away that hammer part of not providing for the increase?” Pochart said.

Noem said nothing in statute has been changed concerning education funding.

“What would have to happen is that someone would have to bring a bill to change that,” she said. “The budget is as proposed. We don’t change statute in the budget. A bill would have to come to change the requirement to meet the minimum teacher salaries during the legislative session.”

If South Dakota wants to compete regionally and nationally for quality teachers, it must commit to funding this program. 

Come on Gov. Noem and legislators – pony up!

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