That Sioux Falls paper reported this week that unfilled K-12 teaching positions continue to run lower this year than last. In June, South Dakota had 186 vacant K-12 teaching jobs, 13% fewer than in June 2015.
Call it your tax dollars at work: our new half-penny state sales tax has allowed Vermillion to raise its average teacher pay for the 2016–2017 school year by $5,000, a 13% increase from the school year just ended.
But don’t let your legislators or Governor Daugaard pretend that they solved everything in K-12 funding this year. As an article in Tuesday’s Aberdeen paper reminds us, kids who live within five miles of Aberdeen city limits get no free school bus service. The Aberdeen school district cut that service during the second Janklow regime. Kids within 2.5 miles of city limits can catch a ride on the city’s Ride Line bus, but that service costs $2 each way, or $708 a year. We may have cut our school spending, but we’ve only forced those costs onto private citizens and the entities that subsidize the city bus service.
Aberdeen’s lack of busing is just one example of the many services we’ve taken away from kids and parents in our K-12 system over the last couple decades of austerity. This year’s sales tax increase put some money back into teacher salaries, but even in that area, the new funding formula assumes districts will employ 300 fewer teachers statewide, a decrease in teaching staff of over 3%.
Raising teacher pay to recruit and retain more teachers is great, but this year’s increased K-12 funding is only a first step toward restoring what school districts have had to sacrifice over decades of neglect in K-12 funding from Pierre.