Teacher Pay, Not Common Core, Deserves Special Session

Rep. Elizabeth May (R-27/Kyle) and other members of the Legislature’s Mugwump Rump are calling for a special session. The KCCR interview with Rep. May Wednesday made it sound like she and her conservative pals might be ready to broaden their horizons and tackle K-12 funding. Alas, in their Thursday press conference, May and friends reverted to form and admitted they just want to get together on August 17 to abolish Common Core:

The legislators — state Sen. Phil Jensen and state Reps. Elizabeth May, Lance Russell, Lynne DiSanto, Chip Campbell and Sam Marty — are criticizing a Blue Ribbon Task Force appointed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard to help resolve the funding crisis that is keeping teacher salaries low.

At a press conference Thursday in Rapid City, the six said they have been shut out of the task force’s deliberations because their priority is eliminating Common Core from South Dakota education standards. Russell also used the conference to propose possible solutions to the fiscal squeeze.

The group wants a special legislative session to discuss Common Core, which South Dakota adopted in 2010 [Emily Niebrugge, “Legislators Aim for Special Session to Eliminate Common Core Education Standards,” Rapid City Journal, 2015.07.10].

I was willing to drive to Pierre during the regular session in February to help my conservative friends argue against Common Core. Legislators heard us out and shot us down. They shot the anti-Common Core bill down again after Rep. Dan Kaiser (R-3/Aberdeen) revived the bill with a smokeout. There is no reason to believe the even more extraordinary measure of convening the Legislature in August for a single-issue discussion would produce any different result.

Nor is there reason to believe that banishing Common Core would do anything to alleviate the teacher shortage. Rep. May likes to say that the burdens of Common Core contribute to driving teachers out of the profession (and I agree that Common Core is nothing but a pain in my classroom keester). However, Rep. Lance Russell (R-30/Hot Springs) says that he’d replace Common Core with the standards we used to have, which shows that Rep. Russell is missing the point. He and May and the other conservatives aren’t really trying to free teachers from the burdens of unnecessary standards and tests imposed by the state; they’re just hollering about Common Core for their own ideological reasons, with no real focus on making teaching more appealing by lifting state mandates.

Blogger and teacher Michael Larson says these Common Core wranglings distracted legislators from discussing K-12 funding last session. A special session on Common Core would be a similar waste of time. Journalist Bob Mercer throws a similar BS flag, not just at May’s special sessioneers, but at the Governor’s Blue Ribbon K-12 panel:

If teacher pay is the problem, in a state that perpetually ranks at the bottom of the national ranking for teacher pay, there is only one way to address the situation, and that’s to find the two-thirds majorities needed in the House and the Senate to approve revenue increases and dedicate the money to paying more to teachers. A special session is window shopping — and so is a Blue Ribbon task force, frankly — without a solution of more tax money in hand [Bob Mercer, “Common Core Opponents Won’t Quit,” Pure Pierre Politics, 2015.07.10].

Rep. May, I don’t want to believe that you and Senator Jensen and Rep. DiSanto are using Common Core as a decoy to forestall the arguably liberal solution of raising taxes and spending more money on teachers, a solution so obvious that even the doggedly objective and restrained Bob Mercer can’t refrain from proposing it. I want to believe that you want to repeal Common Core and boost teacher pay for the good of our teachers and students.

The Legislature should be able to do two things at once, but right now, with respect to K-12 education, I’m not convinced that’s the case. If you’re talking K-12 education and talking about anything other than raising teacher pay, you’re not part of the solution. A special session should be special—i.e., it should do something that the Legislature doesn’t usually do, like talk about a real fiscal remedy to Pierre’s generation-spanning neglect of K-12 funding. We know the remedy, and we could do it in one day. Common Core and other external, top-down standards are an important but mostly separate national issue, not a factor that contributes to the unique market factors causing the teacher shortage that South Dakota must fix.

23 Responses to Teacher Pay, Not Common Core, Deserves Special Session

  1. larry kurtz

    The nut wing of SDGOP denying the Anthropocene, the American Genocide, and the legacy of slavery? What a freaking surprise.

    South Dakota deserves the legislature it suffers.

  2. Disgusting. I should have seen it coming.

  3. larry kurtz

    Few things bring these old bones greater joy than to watch GOP on GOP violence.

  4. mike from iowa

    Guys,you didn’t really believe the blue ribbon rubber stamp committee would actually,seriously consider raising teacher pay.did you? Fool you some more,shame on you.

  5. We live in an irrational red state. But to get off the dime, raise the state sales tax from 4 to 5 cents on the dollar and dedicate the entire amount (about $110 million?) each year to funding public schools.

    Done. Next problem.

  6. Nothing surprising here from this distinguished cadre of legislators, but uncommonly insightful commentary from Mr Mercer.

  7. Cory, I hope you are sitting down. I agree with you on this. Common Core is not the issue here. yes it is a problem but not THE problem.

    I really don’t know what you want the state to do about teacher pay. They don’t set teacher salaries.

  8. MC, I’m glad you agree that, for the moment, Common Core is a distraction.

    Now, I’ve told you what the state can do. Reread the link above: http://dakotafreepress.com/2015/06/14/grand-bargain-eclipse-continuing-contract-for-one-year-raise-sd-teacher-pay-to-60000/

    …and please stop pretending that local school districts have some magical freedom to set whatever teacher salaries they want completely independent of the fiscal parameters set by the state legislature.

  9. Mike, I do still believe that the Blue Ribbon panel can serve as a come-to-Jesus moment where the Legislature and the Governor finally make absolutely clear to voters what they are prepared to do… and in an election year, no less.

  10. Travis Wicks

    Instead of increasing our sales tax, let’s look first at a corporate income tax that starts for businesses that make large profits and have been getting the lions’ share of grants and tax loopholes from our Republican leadership for so long. Another idea is to have a personal income tax on earners who make $100,000 or more. Both would far more progressive and an easier burden for people to shoulder than the regressive sales tax.

  11. mike from iowa

    Cory-you’re an atheist and you exhibit much more faith than I.

  12. larry kurtz

    Reading idiots like Fred Deutsch over in the Water Closet brings no hope for South Dakota’s future in education.

    You poor bastards.

  13. larry kurtz

    Pass a corporate income tax, reduce the number of South Dakota counties to 25, turn DSU into a community college, and legalize cannabis: the kurtz solution painted on a thumbnail.

  14. You’re right, of course. The state funding does play a role in what teachers are paid. There are a number of factors that go into deciding what the pay will be. in the end the final authority is the local school board. If the state gives a school district 1000 more per student, and the school board decides to replace the sod on the football field, or upgrade computers, that is not the state’s doing, that decision rest solely on the shoulders of the school board.

  15. so MC we’re comparing sod on the football field to teachers salaries?
    Ok, I know what you mean but the state can set guidelines as to were any new money could go. They could earmark it for teacher’s salaries and have penalties if they don’t. This should have been done when video lottery came to being.

  16. It is not too late to start that, Owen.

    However, I would like to see and end to video lottery, however our state has become addicted to it

  17. Donald Pay

    I think Mercer is right. You have to have new revenue. You can do it one of two ways, as I see it.

    First is the “bite the bullet,” strategy. Legislators would have to do what’s right and what’s got to be done, and damn the political consequences. They would have to do it all at once, meaning a quite substantial tax hike (probably with a new tax system), because the courage that it would take to do what is necessary to lift SD state government’s school effort up to what is needed (average of surrounding states) would not be rewarded by the voters. The “bite the bullet” strategy is not likely to happen. There is not enough courage or foresight in state leaders.

    The other strategy would be similar to what SD did in lifting state employee salaries in late 1980s through the 1990s. There was a year-by-year effort spanning a decade or more to bring state workers’ salaries up to the midpoint of “job worth.” It was a complex system, but state workers did receive increased pay to “catch up” to what jobs would be paid in the private market. It should be quite easy to do this for teachers, but teachers might not want to wait the decade or so that it might take to catch up. It will take new revenue, so taxing will have to be a part of the plan. That will be a tough discussion. The difference is new revenue streams can be phased in over a decade, so there will be less economic impact.

  18. Donald Pay


    In most districts, if not all, replacing sod on a football field would be done through a separate capital expenditure or a booster fund, and not the fund that additional state aid dollars would go to. The state can always categorize additional dollars it sends, so that money goes to the right places.

  19. mike from iowa

    Raising taxes isn’t complicated at all. It takes intestinal fortitude on the part of gubmint. They need to decide to work for the betterment of their state,not their personal bank accounts. Not taxing those with the most is not an option,ever.

  20. I doubt that the agenda of those legislators who call for a special session to deal with Common Core is an attempt to just derail the whole ‘Blue Ribbon’ thing or sufficiently muddy the water to ensure continuation of the status quo. I think they are probably sincere – just misguided. Bear with me here. Do you recall the fable of the 6 blind men and an elephant – each man holding or touching a different part of the elephant and attempting to describe the animal? One holds the trunk, another an ear, a tusk, the tail, a leg, etc. Of course they cannot agree on what the animal is and each one is sure he is right. Common Core is sorta like that to most conservatives. Sorry if it sounds elitist, but for most it’s just too deep.
    At its essence, Common Core is not some scheme to cram liberal dogma down kids’ throats. It is progressive educational reform designed to produce better educational outcomes and graduates prepared for life in this century – finally. Math focuses on application of knowledge and problem solving. Reading/writing is geared toward effective communication and critical thinking. That’s the ‘radical reform’ in a nutshell. I know it’s harder for some parents to do their 4th grader’s homework, but there is help available for them – students and parents alike. Legislators will need to consult ALEC.

  21. Donald, I agree that a viable plan might involve years of slow improvement to reach competitiveness with Minnesota. We’ve neglected teacher pay for generations; we likely won’t turn that ship around overnight.

    MC, I understand the concern that local districts may still apply state aid to something other than teacher pay. But since the majority of spending at pretty much every school district is salaries, I’m confident that an increase in state aid would yield an increase in pay. Most school districts are freaking out over the dwindling labor pool and the low salaries causing the dwindle; I’m confident most school districts would use new revenue to boost pay and recruit teachers. It would only take a few schools using new cash to raise pay to bring all their neighbors along on raising pay: the meathead school board that buys new football field sod will find its labor pool drained by its more sensible neighbors, just as South Dakota is losing to Minnesota right now.

    But if we need to include a “use for pay only” mandate to get new funding through committee, I’m fine with that. My $20K plan includes such a provision. Local districts won’t balk.

  22. Curt, you’re so darned generous. ;-)

    I probably work too hard looking for a plot behind the Common Core distraction. But proposing a special session, bringing up bills, and leading conversations about Common Core right now does have the net effect of taking away time that legislators could be using to work up the will to pass the taxes they need to raise teacher pay. As Mike said, the problem now is less about deep fiscal analysis and more about guts, and it takes more guts to raise teacher pay than it does to stroke certain sectors of the electorate by shouting about Common Core.

  23. I’ve read some pretty good suggestions here. And I agree with the comments about intestinal fortitude. I know many of those serving on the BR panel already know what needs to be done. It’s not a lack of solutions or even of funds that’s the issue but that too many of our legislators have more allegiance to ALEC and the Koch brothers than to their constituents and the children and future of our state!