- The Democratic plan raises teacher pay to the regional median; the Governor’s plan leaves us at the bottom of the region.
- The Democratic plan lessens the regressive impact of increased sales tax by exempting food; the Governor’s plan increases sales tax without any such relief against regressivity.
- The Democratic plan provides funding to reach its target average statewide pay rate of $50,000 for all 9,362 teachers currently working for our K-12 students; the Governor’s plan reaches its target average of $48,500 by assuming that the state would get rid of 400 teachers.
Governor Daugaard steps forward to emphasize that third point:
The state would set a target salary and target student-teacher ratio for each school district. Under a “perfect alignment,” the state would have to lose about 400 teachers, Daugaard said in an interview Tuesday with Argus Leader Media.
“We looked at every school district and said here’s your ideal ratio,” Daugaard said. “To get everybody to that ideal ratio, we’d need to have about 400 fewer teachers” [Patrick Anderson, “Daugaard: State Has Too Many Teachers,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2016.01.26].
Governor Daugaard’s declaration that South Dakota has 400 teachers too many seems to run counter to the basic assumption his Blue Ribbon K-12 panel staked out at the beginning of the deliberations that produced the Governor’s plan: South Dakota teachers are doing a good job. The Blue Ribbon panel underscored this assumption with their conclusion in their final report that South Dakota ought to keep its student-to-teacher ratio where it is. To say we need to shed 400 teachers says that those 400 teachers are not doing a good job, at least not a good enough job to merit the target average salary we need to compete with surrounding states for teacher applicants.
Remarkably, the South Dakota Education Association, the union charged with protecting teachers’ jobs, still appears not to have noticed that the Democrats are offering a better teacher pay plan that costs no teachers their jobs. Instead, SDEA defends the Governor’s plan:
The president of South Dakota’s teachers union supports the plan, and is careful to point out there’s nothing that forces districts to eliminate jobs.
“There is no intent in the plan for districts to cut teachers,” said Mary McCorkle, president of the South Dakota Education Association [Anderson, 2016.01.26].
Squinting at the plan text (oh, wait, we can’t, because we still don’t have a bill, just the accounts in the press and the non-binding promises in the State of the State speech) and letting one’s eyes go out of focus, one might be able to cling to McCorkle’s conclusion. But the Governor’s numbers and his own words about “efficiency” make clear that his intent is to reach a higher target teacher salary by cutting 400 teachers somewhere in South Dakota.
Daugaard said there are more teachers per student in South Dakota than the national average, which plays into why each teacher is paid less. Some of that he attributed to South Dakota’s rural schools, which have small classrooms.
While many school districts already meet the suggested staffing ratios, some don’t. Some school districts perhaps haven’t adjusted their staff as student enrollment has decreased, and could operate more efficiently, according to the governor. He said the suggested ratios will encourage schools to take a closer look at that.
“This way, having a target ratio will make school board members more attuned to what is an expected efficiency level,” Daugaard said. “Prior to that, I don’t know that they really had any benchmark against which they could judge themselves” [Candy DenOuden, “Governor Optimistic About Teacher Salary Proposal,” Mitchell Daily Republic, 2016.01.27].
I’m not getting rid of any teachers. I’m just making a suggestion, right, Rocco?
Governor Daugaard’s assertion that our lower-than-average student-teacher ratio explains some of our lower teacher pay has dubious value in the debate about establishing regionally competitive teacher salaries. Yes, 2014 NEA data (page 17, Table C-6) show that the national K-12 student teacher ratio was 15.9, while in South Dakota it’s 13.8. But compare us to our neighbors:
|State||K-12 Student-Teacher Ratio (2014)||Average Teacher Salary (2014)|
If I adopted Governor Daugaard’s “efficiency” euphemism, I’d conclude that Montana, Nebraska, Wyoming, and North Dakota schools are less efficient than South Dakota’s but still manage to pay their teachers 22% to 41% more than we do. Explain that, Dennis.
This discussion may be moot, since House Majority Leader Brian Gosch (R-32/Rapid City) says the Governor’s plan won’t pass:
Majority Leader Brian Gosch told The Associated Press that a group of Republicans may have a rough contingency plan by Friday. It’s “prudent” to have an alternative ready if the governor’s plan is defeated, he said.
“I don’t want to get caught behind the eight ball and scramble if the plan falls apart raising taxes,” said Gosch, who opposes the half-cent increase. “I think it’s going to fail, and then you’ve got an alternative plan in place” [James Nord, “House GOP Leader Looking for Alternate Teacher Pay Plan,”AP via Mitchell Daily Republic, 2016.01.25].
I’m going put on my optimist’s hat and assume Rep. Gosch is just posturing for negotiating purposes so he can get some gravy in the final teacher pay bill for himself, like maybe an 85-mile-per-hour speed limit. Rep. Gosch’s pessimistic statement must just be face-saving electoral theater, because the Republican Majority Leader wouldn’t really step out and undercut his Republican Governor before the Governor has even put his plan into writing, would he?
Maybe Rep. Gosch means what he says. Maybe the votes just aren’t there for the Governor’s plan. Maybe any plan to raise teacher pay will go too far for some legislators. But maybe other legislators are sitting out on the Governor’s plan because it doesn’t go far enough to raise wages for all of our teachers and keep opportunities for all of our kids.
The Democratic plan goes that far. The Democratic plan preserves those opportunities. Dems, SDEA, Blue Ribboneers, before you surrender to Gosch’s pessimistic posturing, maybe you should bring some swagger of your own to the table and give the superior $50K/5%/all-hands-on-deck Democratic plan a hard pitch to the public, the press, and the Legislature.