Most Important Blue Ribbon Finding: South Dakota Must Raise Teacher Pay

Don’t get my crabby analysis wrong: the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Teachers and Students says a lot of good things in the final report it issued yesterday. Co-chairs Senator Deb Soholt (R-14/Sioux Falls) and Rep. Jacqueline Sly (R-33/Rapid City) summarize the guiding understandings of the panel in six points in their cover letter to Governor Dennis Daugaard:

  1. schools matter to a community
  2. the most important factor to student success is the presence of a highly qualified teacher
  3. all students should have equal access to learning opportunities
  4. South Dakota faces a teacher shortage
  5. no one plan will fit the needs of all districts and funding equity is essential
  6. citizens expect that tax dollars are used in a cost-effective manner [Blue Ribbon Task Force on Teachers and Students, final report, cover letter to Governor Dennis Daugaard, 2015.11.11].

The proper response to most of these points is, “Thank you, Captains Obvious,” but sometimes getting South Dakota legislators to acknowledge the blueness of the sky is a big achievement in itself. We might debate Item #2—out-of-school factors like poverty and income inequality may outweigh teachers’ impact on students, and even among in-school factors intelligent people can debate alternative causality—but I’m willing to let that point slide for now and praise this panel for recognizing that good teachers are darned important.

The above are general principles; the following is the foundational declaration of fact and need of this policy document:

South Dakota’s average teacher salary in 2013-14 was $40,023. South Dakota’s salary ranks last among the fifty states and the District of Columbia. Even adjusted by a comparable wage index, South Dakota’s salaries lag behind others in the region. South Dakota’s low salaries are a hindrance to teacher recruitment and retention. South Dakota has been ranked last in the nation with respect to teacher salaries for quite some time, but the wage gap is significantly widening in relationship to our market share neighbors which compels urgent action to change our 51st ranking [BluRTFTS, 2015.11.11, p. 10].

Couple that with this foundational policy directive:

The task force’s findings support a conclusion that South Dakota should increase its average statewide teacher salary. This is a major premise of recommendations to follow. Increasing the average salary serves as a tangible goal. The task force has found that South Dakota needs to increase the size of the state’s teaching workforce – by retaining teachers in the profession, attracting more young people into teaching, and keeping more new teachers in the state. The best way for South Dakota to meet that goal is by increasing teacher salaries [BluRTFTS, 2015.11.11, p. 10].

Those two paragraphs should frame the entire debate in the 2016 Session over teacher pay. Rep. Lee Schoenbeck acknowledged these facts this summer. We are last in teacher pay. No amount of GOED magic math or cost-of-living factorization can convert our rock-bottom teacher pay into a regionally competitive salary. We are losing teachers because of that gap, and we must fix it. The debate can no longer be whether; the debate must be how and how much.

Data the Department of Education presented at the September task force meeting on the number of teachers we need and the number entering the field could have been interpreted to say that we don’t need to do much to resolve the teacher shortage. The Blue Ribboneers clarify that discussion to say, no, really, we need more teachers than that:

While the expected pipeline does exceed the expected need, the difference is marginal and made up almost entirely of teachers from alternative programs. While alternative programs are a viable option for many schools, they should not be a required aspect of our incoming pipeline. Our incoming pipeline of teachers minimally provides the number of new teachers needed over the next five years.

This will leave only one applicant for each open teaching position throughout the next five years. Only having one applicant per opening does not adjust for a built-in misalignment of geography and skills. Further, this does not take into account applicant quality. By having limited excess pipeline, schools will be forced to hire less qualified candidates or leave some positions vacant. This may result in an unacceptable drop in student achievement [BluRTFTS, 2015.11.11, pp. 14–15].

I don’t like the Blue Ribboneers’ uncreative focus on regressive sales tax as the sole source of new revenue. But at least they beat back the fallacy that we can solve the problem by whacking principals and superintendents. They find our spending on administration “comparable to surrounding states,” our student–administrator ratio “among the lowest in the region,” and administrative expenses “not a significant opportunity for savings” [pp. 18–19].

South Dakota must raise teacher pay. How we do it is up for debate. But we’re going to have that debate, and by March 2016, we’re going to pass a plan to do it.

That’s the mindset of the Blue Ribbon panel (and kudos for that!). That had better be the mindset of every legislator who plans to get re-elected next year.

37 Responses to Most Important Blue Ribbon Finding: South Dakota Must Raise Teacher Pay

  1. owen reitzel

    I’m with you Cory but it’s all hogwash and a waste of time if nothing gets done.

  2. Bill Dithmer

    We diont have a plan, and we are going to implement that plan we dont have.

    The Blindman

  3. Or have that meeting to have another meeting.

  4. mike from iowa

    What is there in the final analysis that you weren’t aware of before they essentially wasted more time and taxpayer dollars chewing the same cabbage over and over? Haven’t they plowed this same ground every damn year? Are they insane? Doesn’t the soil analysis read the exact same every season?

  5. It would be interesting if a non-partisan organization paid for a 1,000-respondent poll to not only get an idea of what the public understands about public education and its financing in South Dakota, but also to get a clear view of how strongly the public feels about education funding issues. I’ve never seen the teacher pay issue land on its feet when it comes to the legislature and the voting public. We’ve got an extraordinary percentage of the voting public who are old enough not to have kids in the public school system. Their primary concerns are more inward. Would they vote against anyone who raises taxes to improve teacher pay? It would be a good question to ask.

    I’ve noticed in these threads on the Blue Ribbon some objecting to a sales tax and advocating a tax overhaul to fix this problem. That would be a SDGOP wet dream come true for Democrats to jump back into that trap again. Democrats have died on that cross again and again since 1976, and it’s only become worse for public hatred of any kind of income tax. Anything you might think you’ve got going for Democrats from the worst scandals in state history will vanish instantly.

    Democrats, both elected Dems and high profile Dems, need to shut the f*#k up about tax reform. That is NOT on the table. Generations of Republican money have made that a toxic issue forever in South Dakota. It means instant political death not only for the dopes who propose it, but also for every other Democrat on the ballot. The Republicans are on the ropes for failing to fund local education, so don’t be quick to fix their problem for them.

    This is about politics, not good governance.

    If tax reform can ever become a topic for legitimate discussion in Pierre, the road must go through spending that fifth cent of the state sales tax. As long as that option exists, Republicans have a standby excuse to keep playing the games they’ve been playing on taxation and spending. Neither a state personal income tax nor a state corporate income tax will get an intelligent discussion as long as that fifth cent remains unspent.

    Let the Republicans propose the five cent state sales tax. Democrat legislators need to stand back and let the Republicans stay in the box they created with their own neglect. Don’t jump in there with them. You have not been allowed to run state government with a Democrat majority in the legislature and a Democrat as Governor.

    Those are the rules of the road for being successful in South Dakota statehouse politics.

  6. I share MIke’s sentiment that this panel didn’t really uncover evidence or offer a plan that we couldn’t have come up with a year ago… or ten years ago… or at any point in our 30-year reign as the worst-paying state in the nation. But at least they’ve written it down, and at least now we have a group of Republicans and Democrats signing off on it. The consensus nature of the 29 recommendations in this plan are a big deal. This isn’t like the bogus abortion task force report of 2005 where a minority found the ideological, anti-science conclusions of the majority so offensive that they filed their own report. We now have a bipartisan commission agreeing with what we’ve been telling the Legislature to do for years. Maybe that will have some heft during Session.

  7. 96, I’d welcome some polling data on the question you pose on the willingness of voters to cast out incumbents over this issue. Until I see such data, I’ll campaign on the issue. After I see such data, if it turns out the number who give a dang is smaller than I hope, I’ll still campaign on the issue to change their minds. :-D

  8. As for tax reform—dang, 96, I take your pessimism seriously. Is it really the case that the only way to get tax reform is to let the GOP drag us into a system so regressive and ineffective that it finally breaks the public?

  9. Keep on keepin’ on, Cory! Educating and motivating the public on education funding issues is critical to the state’s future economic relevance. People have been fed lies for so long about all facets of education in South Dakota, no wonder the university system is run by shady people. And no wonder people in South Dakota are incapable of having a sensible discussion on taxation and what constitutes a balanced and fair tax system.

    Change is incremental and requires diligence and patience. Thankfully, there are venues like your blog where people can get a much more truthful and clear picture of how their government works.

  10. Maybe if Jackley would stop getting South Dakota into these expensive lawsuits that he always looses, we could use those monies for teachers.

  11. Disgusted Dakotan

    Maybe what voters need is a point of reference?

    What is the salary of our Highway Patrol? County Sheriff’s? Median income for SD? Etc?

  12. Disgusted Dakotan

    SD had two huge tax increases AND a large increase in vehicle registration fees this last session. Because the establishment “Republicans” voted for it with Democrats, it barely made a side note in the media.

    These same RINOs will campaign and defeat your (D’s) by claiming they will be the ones that increase taxes, increase government, and increase spending. Democrats are silent on this when they should be reversing the tables on these big government loving “Republicans” and outing them for what they are.

    You all have seen how corrupt Rounds & Daugaard’s administration’s are; but, you think the increased monies they are getting now went all for legitimatly run government?! Give them more tax dollars and thet syphon more off for more cronyism.

  13. Roger Cornelius

    96 has done an excellent political analysis of the education crisis in South Dakota and I tend to agree with him.

    It has been a long term belief that liberal Democrats are the party of tax and spend and Republicans the innocent bystanders, except in South Dakota.

    Republicans have been responsible for every tax and fee increase for the last forty years and what has it gained them or the education system? What the hell are they doing with all our money?

    96 is right, this is basically a problem created by Republicans and must be solved by them, Democrats hardly have a voice in what they do and how they do it.

    I’ll tell you what, send me Cory and 96 to Pierre and we’ll guarantee that we can find $75 Million in short order, Republicans will hate us and call us crazy but by God you’ll have the money.

  14. Disgusted, voters only need the points of reference you suggest if you can show me that the teacher shortage is caused by teachers signing up to be HP and sheriffs. The task force properly focuses on the most relevant points of reference, the thousands of dollars more that teachers can make simply by crossing the border in any direction and doing the same work for which they have trained.

  15. Donald Pay

    Unlike 96 Tears I see a conundrum for people who believe in the need for increased money for education (including both teacher salary increases and programs for students), as well as good governance and fairness in tax policy. Does the state once again stick it to the poor and middle class to fund what is supposed to be a uniform education system and let the wealthy skate by without doing their fair share?

    I think the politics are actually on the side of tax fairness. I would bet most folks believe that the wealthy in South Dakota are not shouldering a fair share of the tax load, and they would be right in that belief. Not only that, most people probably would say they want the wealthy to start paying their fair share of state taxes.

    What they may be hesitant about are two questions: (1) is more revenue needed and (2) what taxing vehicle is going to provide more fairness.

    Those are the questions that have been lied about repeatedly in South Dakota. Political demagogues and businesses elites have propagandized on this issue for decades and the folks in South Dakota have so totally bought in to the lies that it is nearly impossible to make headway on the issue. The fact that South Dakota is last in the nation in nearly everything, and one of the most corrupt states in the nation ought to make folks question the received wisdom that they get fed by the corrupt political and business elites.

    Here’s a sad fact: in many parts of the state, even in parts of Rapid City, the current teacher’s salary is far higher than many folks could even dream of reaching. In other parts of the state, particularly in the wealthier parts of Sioux Falls and other large towns, a teacher’s salary wouldn’t allow you to buy the storage shed on a residential lot there. The folks of modest means are probably right to think they shouldn’t be taxed any more. But you looked at the wealthy folks and how much they are taxed, well, they aren’t paying anything near their fair share.

    A sales tax increase should be voted down, on fairness issues. It should be voted down on governance issues, because the elected leadership lacks a proper sense of fairness in taxation. It should be voted down because the folks who would impose the tax are corrupt, and you shouldn’t provide them one more dime, until they clean up and clean out government.

    That’s what would happen in a just world. But the wealthy and the political elite in South Dakota are the opposite of just. They are greedy. They perpetuate decades of corruption, and use propaganda and lies to fool the public. They have no ability to think beyond their own interests.

    And these are the folks who think another sales tax hike on the poor and middle class is a great idea to solve some vital education issues.

    Well, my idea is this. 96 Tears is right. There is no courage anywhere in South Dakota to take on the political and business elite. Support the sales tax increase, or don’t. It will go down or it will pass. If it passes, the wealthy get to stick it to the middle class and poor once again. Teachers will get some bump in income, taken out of the mouths of the very students they teach. The rich will escape their responsibilities. They will pocket more money, and make fun of the poor dumb folks who vote against their own interests. If it goes down, the corrupt political leadership will say, “Well, we tried. What do you want from us?”

    And no one, absolutely no one will say, “A little honesty and some good governance,” because in South Dakota, you can’t have that, and everyone knows it.

  16. Sadly, I can guarantee, judging from the comments made by one of my legislative district’s representatives that voters have sent to Pierre, that there is at least one and likely many legislators who don’t understand school financing, or the impacts that the legislature/governor have on school funding/teacher pay each year. Heck, even if my lawmaker plans to read the Blue Ribbon report, I know this individual lacks the ability to comprehend it.

  17. I also find myself agreeing with both 96 and Donald, especially after glancing over at the War Toilet and reading Powers’ comment that the proposed sales tax increase, in his view, means that everyone will have “some skin in the game.”
    Powers is already trying to educate his readers that an increase in a regressive tax, one that sticks it to the poor that he and his fellow party members really don’t give a hoot about, is the best way to go.

  18. mike from iowa

    But at least they’ve written it down, and at least now we have a group of Republicans and Democrats signing off on it.

    For how long will wingnuts stay with the plan? Until the next election cycle? Later? Sooner? Have they finally developed intestinal fortitude to do the needful for the state,the children,the future?

  19. And this goes to why a well thought out benchmark survey of 1,000 voters would be so helpful for charting the course in the short term and in the long term.

    Public support for an income tax to fund public education and to lower reliance on property taxes has not had a majority support in South Dakota since the mid-70s. Democrats lost the legislature in 1976 and then the governor’s office in 1978 because of their proposal to create a balanced tax system in 1976. And as Don said, they’ve been fed poison ever since on the topic and that has greatly benefited some very rich and greedy people at the expense of a competent system of funding state government and our education system.

    Despite valiant efforts by some legislators with integrity to speak out and by some organizations (SDEA and Farmers Union to name two) to educate the public, things have only become worse. The last time someone put the issue on the ballot in the late 90s (corporate income tax, not a personal income tax), it lost in every county of South Dakota by five percentage points and more. Other than Gerry Lange, nobody in the legislature has stuck out their neck to advocate a balanced tax system since that election disaster.

    In the short run, with the 2016 Legislature to start inside two months, the best the Democrats can do is to not help the Republicans fix the problem they caused. There is no time to educate anybody on a balanced tax system. All that can be done is figuring out how Democrats can keep from damaging their chances of winning more seats in the Senate and House. Unless there is a Svengali genius that I’m not aware of in their caucus who can coax the entire state to side with the Democrats’ position, the Democrats should remind voters that Republicans have more than enough votes in both chambers (more than 2/3) to pass a tax hike and fix the crisis they alone created.

    That’s the short run. Get in and out of Pierre without screwing up. Recruit full slates and run against the mess Republicans created in Pierre.

    The long run? Build a coalition, and not only with the usual suspects. Do the hard work of holding town hall meetings in every county over the next couple years. Explain this to people. You get what you pay for in public education, but you shouldn’t drop the hardest burden on those who are barely making ends meet. Everybody has to do their fair share because that is the South Dakota way. That means no exceptions.

    Build and keep building the coalition and leave no room for the opposition to spread their lies. This requires a lot of hard work. You don’t get something for nothing, even when you’re right. If it takes four years to prevail, then work hard for four years and grow the movement.

    I’m not a pessimist, but I’ve seen this done wrong so many times. Those expecting an overnight solution are also part of the problem.

  20. So 96 are you basically say let the Republicans fully and publicly own this while the Dems lie low and slowly build a bench and organization? They will still need to energize people, fundraise and recruit candidates and volunteers for the RIGHT reasons. That party is a mess right now with some bad agendas being pushed.

    Some people won’t have the patience will move for better economic, educational and cultural opportunities outside the state.

  21. larry kurtz

    Making South Dakota safe for Democrats again is likely an impossible task, for sure.

  22. South Dakota is already the 4th least tax-fair state: adding more regressive taxes favors the few and outweighs the needs of the many.

  23. larry kurtz

    South Dakota Republicans don’t want to alter the status quo or they would have done it already.

  24. owen reitzel

    The key is too earmark the money for teachers salaries and for the state to make sure that’s where it goes.
    Just remember it’s Republicans siphoning off the money-not Democrats

  25. Roger, put you, 96, and me on the same panel, and there will be fireworks… and results. Let’s go! How do we get appointed/elected?

    But check out the conflict in middle of Donald’s comment. I’ve talked about trumpeting corruption in Pierre as a core campaign issue in 2016. I’ve also advocated (at last week’s Front Porch event—see 12:05 in second video—most recently, at the end of this very post!) that the success or failure of the Blue Ribbon proposal be a defining issue in every Legislative campaign.

    When Donald says we should vote down a tax increase (any 2016 tax increase, Donald?) because “the folks who would impose the tax are corrupt, and you shouldn’t provide them one more dime, until they clean up and clean out government,” he exposes the possibility that my two core campaign issues may not work together. If I’m serious about fighting corruption, nobody in government gets gravy. If I’m serious about letting government raise more money, I have to trust them.

    Do I have to give up one issue for 2016? Or can we get more money to teachers and sweep out the corrupt SOBs at the same time?

  26. 96, to rephrase part of Lynn’s question, is the proper strategy for Democrats to take a vow of silence during the 2016 Session?

  27. larry kurtz

    An SDDP boycott of the session would send a pretty strong signal, for sure.

  28. lynn-bad agendas? please elaborate.

  29. Roger Cornelius

    Just a bit of a follow up to 96’s political analysis, I just returned from the Powers Dump Site and they are bumping into themselves over there.

    It is clear that should Daugaard raise the sales tax as being suggested, they have to find a way to make it a Democrat tax plan by starting to call the gov a DINO.

    The republicans in this state have been the party of tax and spend for forty years and still are blaming Democrats for their reckless and irresponsible ways.

  30. (Leslie, Lynn thinks SD Dems have bought 100% into the pro-pot agenda, considers that issue more important than everything else on which Dems beat the GOP, and thus is actively campaigning to discourage people from supporting the SDDP. Please take up that argument on any of these other lengthy threads on marijuana policy:

    But don’t do it here.)

  31. Roger, you’re going to get a migraine reading that junk. Be careful.

    And tell me, Roger, how do I turn that last sentence of yours into a campaign speech that makes voters mark D? Or does that line only work for Stace Nelson and the RINO hunters?

  32. “96, to rephrase part of Lynn’s question, is the proper strategy for Democrats to take a vow of silence during the 2016 Session?”

    Don’t ya mean to break their 40 year vow of silence, Cory? Other than a couple of known hero’s. Butler, Kane, who come to mind.

  33. Donald Pay

    Here’s what I would do, after a little further reflection. I’d hold my nose and vote for the sales tax increase, provided all the money went to teacher salaries and local school districts for student programs and services and none of it went anywhere else. That would solve the current need quickly.

    Here’s the reason: Teacher salaries are going to be spent in local communities. For the most part, local communities and businesses are going to benefit from the raises being spent in their communities. This would get that addition tax money out of the corrupt Pierre cabal, and back into the hands of the folks who pay the tax fairly quickly. If any of that money would go to Pierre-based programs, I’d vote against the sales tax. That means none of the sales tax increase can go anything other than teacher salaries and school districts for student programs. School districts, however, cannot rathole money, so they have to spend down reserves to a reasonable level.

    But that is not where the effort should stop. First, the school aid formula has to be redone, and from the bottom up, not the top down. The last time it was done by a bunch of politicians in the back rooms of the Capitol Building using an ALEC-like model developed in several other states. The formula has been a disaster from day one. It needs to be replaced by something that has as its first priority the education of students.

    Second, there has to be a fairer tax system to fund education. There should be a ten year plan to phase in a personal income tax on upper income households, and a simultaneous reduction of both property taxes and state sales taxes.

  34. Roger Cornelius


    As a part of your campaign speech I would throw that “tax and spend” in the republicans face.
    There is plenty of evidence to support that phrase, “republicans are the party of tax and spend”, now let me show you how they have done it.

    Taxes have got to be a central part of our campaign, just as corruption should be.

    I’m tired of republicans getting away with that crap all these years and never being called on it.

  35. The clock starts running at noon Tuesday, Jan. 12, until the gavel falls on Legislative Day 37 on Friday, March 11, to solve a problem that is the result of a stubborn refusal to properly finance education for the last 40 years. You can’t separate funding the education formula from teacher pay. These are the same issue. Pulling the education formula out of the general fund and making a new tax 100 percent dedicated forever to the education formula would never get Republican caucus support. They sold video lottery as a vehicle to deliver 100 percent of its proceeds to education and it didn’t happen. Democrats, you’ve got the schmucks over a barrel. Don’t let them off the hook. Make them pay dearly.

    I would be surprised and delighted if the legislature would pass what Don described. And I don’t think Democrats should remain silent. They should be hammering the Republicans every day for taking 40 years to solve a problem that could have been fixed long ago if not for the meddling with the formula and if not for the refusal to build a competent tax system.

    Every Democratic legislator should refuse to give a single vote to a tax hike unless every nickel of it goes to local school districts and unless the legislature reforms the state’s education funding mechanism, as Don says from the bottom up, so that it functions fairly for all school districts. If Republicans want something else, they have the votes to continue making things worse.

  36. happy camper

    Looks like they basically agree with you. Call off the dogs!!!

  37. Hap, the dogs keep barking and chasing until they pass a real plan and teachers see the money.