I wrote my open letter to Governor Dennis Daugaard yesterday suspecting that the Governor wouldn’t just advocate the Blue Ribbon K-12 panel’s plan to raise teacher pay. I thought he’d hold teacher pay raises hostage to force us to revisit 2012’s teacher-hating House Bill 1234. I thought his initial noncommittal response to the Blue Ribbon plan meant he would spend the two months between report release and 2016 Session to come up with conservative-hobbyhorse ideas to stamp his own image on the plan and put the screws to teachers.
But Governor Daugaard didn’t go down any such counterproductive political path. In his State of the State speech in the Capitol today, he did not offer any wild new plan of his own. He did not mention merit pay, continuing contract, vouchers, charter schools, or any other conservative hobbyhorses. He didn’t even water down the already minimal Blue Ribbon plan. He pretty much just said, Do what the Blue Ribbon plan says, and do it now.
Governor Daugaard’s basic plan is to increase South Dakota’s average teacher pay from $40,023 to $48,500 (the Blue Ribboneers recommended at least $48,000). Multiplied by over 9,300 teachers, that new average requires over $79 million in new revenue. Governor Daugaard proposes raising the state sales tax from 4% to 4.5%, which he indicated would raise about $120 million. Governor Daugaard would dedicate $79 million to raising teacher pay, then put the rest toward cutting property taxes.
Here are the most important things Governor Daugaard said about teacher pay in his speech in the Capitol today to justify the Blue Ribbon plan:
- The teacher shortage is real, supported by anecdote and data.
- Salaries aren’t the only reason we are short on teachers, but we can’t fix the shortage unless we raise salaries.
- Even when we adjust for cost of living, South Dakota still falls behind surrounding states in teacher pay.
- “The only way to become more competitive is to increase our state’s average teacher salary.”
- “This is the year to get out of last place. This is the year to act.”
Points 1, 2, 3, and 4 help limit the debate in the coming two months. We are done arguing about whether we are short on teachers. We are done arguing about other non-salary factors that drain the teaching pool. We are disposing of the fantasy that our mythical cost of living advantage makes up for our low teacher pay. We are done pretending that we can recruit teachers with no-cost/low-cost gimmicks. In these four points, Governor Daugaard is embracing the logic not just of this blog (it’s about darn time!) but of the free market: if you want more workers, you have to offer more pay. (My goodness: imagine the revolution that may be afoot in the Governor’s thinking on workforce issues in general!)
Point 5 also helpfully limits the debate—to this session, this winter, this Legislature. The Governor isn’t waiting for our neighboring states to pull even further ahead of us. He’s not asking for a gentle phase-in. He’s saying the problem is urgent enough that we must act now. And yes, the Legislature can implement this tax increase in time to allow schools to start writing bigger checks this August.
SDEA President Mary McCorkle was gushing about the Governor’s “bold” plan. I can’t gush. It bothers me that “bold” in South Dakota still means increasing a regressive tax and still leaving South Dakota teachers earning less than their neighbors in any neighboring state.
Governor Daugaard’s plan does lift us from 51st to 37th in the nation and puts us within $200 of 36th-place North Dakota. He offers teachers that raise without all the awful things I thought he might try to impose. This plan doesn’t strive to make us the best; it just tries to drag us out of the gutter… and Governor Daugaard is the first South Dakota governor in decades to offer a serious plan to get us out of the gutter. That’s bold… for a South Dakota Republican… I guess.
Democratic legislators say Governor Daugaard’s plan is flawed; they offer their own bolder plan to raise pay and benefits without cutting teachers. We’ll talk about that sticking point (ah, the new funding formulas, based on target teacher-student ratio) and the Democratic alternative in an upcoming post.