Some of my teacher friends are tweeting from the Technology & Innovation in Education (TIE) conference in Rapid City. Yesterday conference attendee Sandy Arsenault tweeted Secretary of Education Melody Schopp’s remark that South Dakota has ranked 51st in the nation for teacher pay since 1986. I’ve heard that South Dakota’s teacher pay was rock bottom at least a generation before that, but we got to wondering if we could find some evidence.
Arsenault tracked down this table from esteemed South Dakota historian John Miller’s spring 2003 article on education in South Dakota since World War II:
South Dakota’s teacher-pay rank peaked at 37th in the 1945–1946 school year, then slid steadily from there. Interestingly, our rank was higher back when teachers’ educational credentials were lower:
For many decades, the educational background of South Dakota’s teachers remained meager. In fact, if not for the presence of a teacher corps composed mainly of teen-aged girls and young women possessing few credentials and willing to accept small salaries, the early educational system would scarcely have been able to function at all. As late as 1961, only 3.6 percent of the slightly more than two thousand rural teachers in the state held four-year college degrees. Another 35.1 percent possessed more than two years of college training, while 54.4 percent had between one and two years, and 6.9 percent had less than one year. In one respect, local school districts benefited from this situation, for it allowed them to keep costs down by paying lower salaries than college graduates could command [John Miller, “Education in South Dakota Since World War II,” South Dakota History, vol. 33, no. 1, Spring 2003, pp. 50–51].
A 1991 research brief from the Minnesota House of Representatives offers a year-by-year chart of teacher pay rankings for South Dakota, Minnesota, and other states in the region from 1970 to 1989:
This chart disagrees (how dare they!) with Miller on the 1970–1971 ranking, placing South Dakota at 43rd instead of 48th. In the Minnesota data, South Dakota slid when Democrat Richard Kneip takes the Governor’s office, blipped up a bit at the ascent of Republican Bill Janklow, then settled by 1985 into three solid decades in last place.
From these data, we can comfortably summarize South Dakota’s historical teacher pay rankings: since 1950, South Dakota has ranked in the bottom ten for teacher pay. Our ranking dropped as teacher credentials increased, indicating that South Dakota has lagged behind other states in raising teacher pay to compensate teachers for their increasing educational requirements.