Lana Greenfield Excuses Inaction on SD Teacher Pay with Cries of Nationwide Teacher Shortage

I noted yesterday that the most important words spoken at the Aberdeen sessions of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Teachers and Students may have been co-chair Senator Deb Soholt’s statement of the parameters for the panel’s K-12 funding discussions, which may help beat back some of the excuses legislators and the governor have previously used to avoid fixing South Dakota’s embarrassing, student-harming status of offering the lowest average teacher salary in America for the last three decades.

Rep. Lana Greenfield, determined to excuse inaction on teacher pay.
Rep. Lana Greenfield, determined to excuse inaction on teacher pay.

Enter Rep. Lana Greenfield (R-2/Doland), who appears determined to cling to some excuse for the Legislature not to raise teacher pay. Rep. Greenfield attended the educator and general public listening sessions of the K-12 task force in Aberdeen Tuesday. During at least one table discussion at the public session where participants were saying pretty strongly that the schools need more money to recruit and retain teachers, Rep. Greenfield defied Governor Daugaard’s hushing and told her table-mates that there’s a teacher shortage nationwide, so raising teacher pay won’t do any good.

Former teacher Rep. Greenfield was repeating an argument that she began making before she took office, last December, when she said we need to figure out how to get people to enter teacher training programs rather than talk about raising pay. It further echoes her effort to divert our policy talk from low teacher pay with her implicitly accusatory assertion that good teachers don’t worry about their personal financial gain and dedicate themselves to the kids first.

Loving kids does not oblige a teacher to work for free (which, compared to the going wage in surrounding states, one could argue South Dakota teachers do for 41 days out of a 180-day school year). The decline in workers interested in teaching does not justify failure to raise teacher pay. Quite the opposite: if not enough people are going into teaching, simple market economics tells us we have to raise wages to balance supply of labor with demand for services.

Ignoring those simple principles requires Rep. Lana Greenfield to adopt a willful blindness to the harm her Legislature and her party have perpetrated on South Dakota’s K-12 education system.

When other folks at the table told Rep. Greenfield that a nationwide shortage of teachers should not stop us from trying to recruit more, the Doland legislator said something about how such competition between states turns into “cannibalism” or a “dog-eat-dog” situation. Another participant at the table said this task force and this Legislature are here to take care of South Dakota first. I think I said something like, “Let’s listen to the market and eat the dog.”

Even Governor Daugaard should reject Rep. Greenfield’s implication that we should not raise teacher pay for fear of competing with other states. The Governor’s Office of Economic Development works daily to raid businesses and workers from other states. Why would we hesitate to compete with other states for the best teachers in the country… unless deep down we fear we’d lose a heads-up pay battle with Minnesota… or unless deeper down we just don’t want to pay teachers what the market says they are worth?

Let’s not be cowards or cheapskates. Let’s ignore Rep. Greenfield’s excuses. If teacher shortages abound—in Nevada, Arizona, North Dakota, New York, Texas, and California—that’s more reason, not less, to take serious action. And the most serious and straightforward action South Dakota can take is to put more money in teachers’ pockets.


16 Responses to Lana Greenfield Excuses Inaction on SD Teacher Pay with Cries of Nationwide Teacher Shortage

  1. Cory, really, I put part blame on the teachers. Since I’ve been to MN, I have seen several walkouts on the job – the state govt, a local city bus driver company, and a hotel organization. Cory, you would be the perfect man to start the walkout. Minnesotans are not afraid to do this, so learn from them. It’s exciting when I first saw it and was nervous for them, being from such a conservative state. But, it is democracy at its best, and I enjoy seeing it.

  2. I have two issues with Rep. Greenfield’s argument for inaction. First, that a problem also exists outside SD’s boarders does not mean that it should be ignored within SD boarders. This reduces to silliness if we were to look at all the problems facing our state and say we ought to ignore all those not absolutely unique. We certainly would not say that if there would be drought or crop loss in other states, farmers in SD should not ask for compensation/insurance payouts based on losses not being solely unique to SD farmers. We did not reject juvenile justice (and larger justice) reform because other states also have justice problems. . .

    Secondly, the national crisis will make SD more vulnerable to the “dog-eat-dog” recruitment of other states if we continue to make out teachers easy economic targets. Even now I hear of more aggressive, blanket, cross-boarder recruitment of teachers from SD. Keeping SD wages low certainly will not provide any incentive for teachers to pass up ever better offers; keeping SD wages lower only paints a national/regional target uniquely on SD schools to the detriment of our students. Conversely, noncompetitive wages ensures that we cannot look to any other source than an internal pipeline to place future teachers in SD – we cannot pull from other states to help resolve the real shortage SD classrooms face..

  3. Jenny—walkout? Strike? That’s union talk!

    A teacher at one table at the educator sessions said that contract negotiations at her school are about “being told what they are going to give us.” She said teachers aren’t used to speaking up for what they want and need. They are raised not to brag about themselves. Teachers, she said, widely adopt the ethic of self-sacrifice Greenfield talks about. You are right, Jenny: to some extent, teachers are responsible for their impoverished (money and power) situation.

    Here’s one thing those humble (read: exploitable) teachers may be afraid to say to their communities and the Legislature: especially in Class B schools, teachers are the single most important professional cadre keeping their communities alive. They keep open the one institution, the public school, capable not just of teaching and caring for all children in the community but of organizing, funding, and hosting nearly all major cultural events of the community and of offering the single most important amenity in encouraging families to move to town. If you have no teachers, you have no school, and if you have no school, your town dies.

    How’s that for a rallying motto for a teacher walkout?

  4. O, yes—when I read the article that North Dakota is studying its teacher shortage, I think it’s only logical that one response will be to recruit/poach more teachers from South Dakota. A principal in Fargo, Jamestown, Ellendale, or Bowman isn’t going to say, “Gee, South Dakota is short on teachers, too, so I won’t hurt them by recruiting South Dakota teachers.” There is no neutrality in a national teacher shortage. We don’t get to be Switzerland (although maybe that’s the plan with all of our easy banking regs). Keeping wages low leaves us at a permanent disadvantage.

  5. Populations in other states are growing faster than South Dakota so it only makes sense there would be a teacher shortage in those states. We simply need to expand Medicaid and use the tax savings to pay our professional educators.

  6. A strike?!? Okay Jenny, now I’m spooked (no scared, but you have my attention)

    I’m very curious if the teachers are prepared for all the collateral damage.

  7. Roger Cornelius

    In an article in the Rapid City Journal today, the teacher shortage in South Dakota is more serious than what the SDGOP wants to recognize.

    This is nonsense talk coming from the Blue Ribbon Panel, the fact remains that there needs to be equitable starting base for teacher salaries with corresponding increases, this should not be about how much more blood we can get from teachers. Why is the say difficult for the SDGOP to comprehend?

    School will be starting in a few short months, will schools be able to fill all the teaching positions in that short time frame?

  8. Ray Tysdal

    Rep. Greenfield is a perfect example of the type of South Dakota republican legislator who will stand in the way of anything being done on education. What makes them so proud to be last in almost every category that counts?

  9. There is an element of this that will resonate: what if the solution is not enough to have an effect; what if we spend money and find ourselves in the same problem? I understand that as the root of Rep. Greenfield’s (and others) concern. I take that same – real – concern the opposite direction: we must ensure the solution is BIG enough to affect the change we desire. This cannot be only about putting a few more dollars in teachers’ pockets (although I do support that intrinsically). The solution has to be large enough to answer the problem of current and projected teacher shortage. We must achieve a “tipping point” to change the path of professionals INTO SD classrooms, retaining them, and stem the tide AWAY from SD classrooms.

    Thinking large is daunting; but inaction in this arena is even more devastating. In terms of policy direction, it it time for vision not care taking.

  10. MC – enjoyed your collateral damage comment.

    Teachers today ARE the collateral damage done by an ass-backwards system to pay for education.

    You and some others may not like the teachers any more if they decide to press the issue and work together to get themselves out of the pay basement. That’s collateral damage, but they probably don’t care that much what you think.

  11. mike from iowa

    Seems pretty obvious why she was chosen for this “blue-ribbon” panel by this anti-education administration in this anti-education backwater place. I’ve mentioned this before,but in order to expand a wingnut’s mind,tou have to blow it-literally.

  12. Cory already said it.
    In many smaller towns the school the anchor.
    No teachers
    no school
    parents move to a city that has schools
    town dries up
    town blows away

  13. Among the collateral damage of a strike, MC, is a violation of SDCL 3-18-10, which prohibits strikes by any public employee in South Dakota. The courts can immediately end any such illegal strike by injunction, but I’m not sure what the penalty is for strikers.

    Is the frustration high enough to motivate teachers to take such a risk? Will the failure of the Blue Ribbon task force provoke a walkout?

  14. O: vision, vision, vision. Has anyone in Pierre offered vision since the Janklow era?

  15. Eve Fisher

    O, the hilarity! And here I was always taught that, according to free market economics, when there’s a shortage of something, the price goes up! Obviously, not in South Dakota, where the only shortage is of common sense.

  16. Donald Pay

    I have been musing about a walkout. A walkout is not necessarily a strike. If the purpose of a walkout were not related to any of the factors in statute (compensation, etc.) and not directed at the employer (a district) then a walkout would probably be protected by the First Amendment, and not fall under the state statute anyway. Thus, it might not be wise to walkout with a demand for higher teacher compensation. It might be better to have a demand for the state to provide an increase in funding for education.

    However, a teacher is under a contract to a district, so each district would have to more or less agree to the action, or at least agree not to take action against teachers who walk out. You would have to have boards and administrators who are willing to work together with teachers on this. And, teachers would have to have an immense amount of trust in the administration and school board. Whether that amount of trust could ever be developed is problematic. Since there is a near crisis in education, I could see that trust building. Also, the walkout would not be to make demand not made to the district (the employer), but to the state government.

    Of course the state would have the stick of taking away funding, but then they might also be in violation of their Constitutional duty. The biggest problem would be that parents rely on the education system to look after their children during the school year. A walkout would alienate part of the electorate, and could backfire.