Senator Jeff Monroe (R-24/Pierre) continues to make stuff up to excuse his resistance to the Blue Ribbon K-12 panel’s teacher pay proposal.
At the Stanley County School Board meeting in November, Senator Monroe rambled through the usual excuses for taking no action to address South Dakota’s teacher shortage by raising teacher pay—South Dakota’s lowest in the country in everything else, other factors besides pay drive workers away from South Dakota, blah blah blah. Monday, Senator Monroe told the Pierre School Board that he’s “not a tax guy, so you know where I sit there, but I don’t have a big problem with doing something.” The Senator then says something about a “survey of all the teachers” at the last part of the Blue Ribbon report that “had about fifteen reasons why the teachers weren’t coming or were leaving, and if you look at that list, it’s not really related to money.”
I’ve read the Blue Ribbon K-12 panel’s final report multiple times. Page 13 of the 34-page document offers this summary of Dr. Richard Ingersoll’s survey of reasons for teacher turnover. “The survey data is nationwide,” the report says, “and the task force acknowledged that low salaries are probably a more significant factor in South Dakota. Unfortunately, no similar data exists that is specific to South Dakota.”
Right there, in plain text, the Blue Ribbon final report rebuts Senator Monroe’s assertion that money isn’t related to South Dakota’s teacher shortage. The Ingersoll survey is not South Dakota-specific and thus should not serve as the basis for Monroe’s South Dakota policymaking.
Even if we overlook the non-South Dakota-specificity of the Ingersoll data, it still supports the ugly conclusion Senator Monroe is trying to avoid: more money could directly address the leading reasons for teacher turnover.
Poor salary and benefits are the third biggest reason teachers leave the job. More money is the direct solution.
The other three items atop the Ingersoll survey are all directly related to money as well. Give schools more money for teacher pay, and they can fill vacancies, hire more teachers, and thus give each teacher a little more prep time, a less heavy teaching load, and smaller class sizes. That route may hire more teachers and not raise the average pay for every teacher, and that’s a different policy route from the Blue Ribboneers’ stated goal of raising average teacher pay by 20%, but it’s still a solution that boils down to money.
If Senator Monroe doesn’t think South Dakota teachers deserve higher pay, and if he doesn’t want to do anything about the teacher shortage, he should just say so.
At the same meeting, Rep. Tim Rounds (R-24/Pierre) said he thinks it may be hard to convince the Legislature to raise taxes again, especially in an election year. Rep. Mary Duvall (R-24/Pierre) acknowledges that a lot of people are coming up to her and saying they’ll swallow a sales tax increase if the Legislature can guarantee the money goes to teachers. According to KCCR, Duvall, Rounds, and Monroe all said they are “looking forward to Governor Daugaard’s State of the State Speech, to see what his specific recommendations will be.”
Real leaders wouldn’t be waiting for the Governor’s recommendations. They would talk less about how hard it might be to persuade the Legislature and say that, as legislators themselves, they are ready to put forward a plan and fight for it. Rep. Lee Schoenbeck (R-5/Watertown) did that this summer. Rep. Lance Russell (R-30/Hot Springs) did that last week. Apparently such bold leadership is not expected of legislators from the Governor’s district.