The Blue Ribbon Task Force on Teachers and Students meets today in Watertown and tomorrow in Aberdeen (at each town’s Ramkota) to ask citizens to write on sticky notes their ideas for meaningful reform of K-12 funding.
These meetings are superfluous. Pretty much everything we need to know about South Dakota’s teacher shortage and every policy direction we need to take to tackle it is laid out in this Washington Post article about why teachers are fleeing Arizona and what Arizona needs to do about it:
Why are so many teachers leaving? Educators say reasons include low pay, insufficient classroom resources, and so many testing requirements and teaching guidelines that they feel they have no flexibility and too little authentic instructional time. According to new Census Bureau statistics, Arizona is near the bottom of a state list of spending per student, $7,208. The average per pupil spending around the country is $10,700, and the state is near or at the bottom for classroom spending per student. But it is near the top of a list of states showing which ones get the biggest percentage of their education revenue from the federal government [Valerie Strauss, “Why Teachers Are Fleeing Arizona in Droves,” Washington Post, 2015.06.19].
South Dakota’s per-pupil K-12 expenditures are $8,470; forty states spend more. Arizona gets 14.6% of its K-12 funding from federal sources; South Dakota, 14.8%. Two states take larger share from Uncle Sam.
And check out that mention of testing requirements and teaching guidelines driving teachers out. Maybe Rep. Elizabeth May is on to something; maybe we really should be talking about how our slavish adoption and execution of Common Core standards and conversion of most classes into test prep has something to do with why fewer people want to be teachers.
Arizona’s teacher pay is better than South Dakota’s, but regional competition is driving their teacher shortage:
The average teacher salary in the state was $49,885 in 2013, which is low compared to nearby states such as California ($69,324), Nevada ($55,957, and Oregon ($57,612), the report says. “Many times young teachers cannot find affordable housing in the communities in which they teach, struggle to pay off student loans, and take on additional jobs,” it says. The report says that the average starting salary for a teacher in 2013 in Arizona was $31,874. That’s 20 percent higher than in 2003. During that same decade, the minimum wage jumped 53 percent [Strauss, 2015.06.19].
Strauss’s average salary figures differ from those published in March by the NEA, but the comparisons hold: Arizona and South Dakota both rank lowest in teacher pay among their adjoining states. Arizona teachers can jump the border and make 9.5% more in Colorado, 23% more in Nevada, and 57% more in California. South Dakota teachers can make 21% more in North Dakota, 37% more in Minnesota, and 41% more in Wyoming.
The Arizona Department of Education formed an Educator Retention and Recruitment Task Force “composed of ADE staff, school and district personnel and other education stakeholders.” Their January 2015 report made 24 policy recommendations, including respecting teachers, streamlining teacher certification, and these four points on teacher compensation:
- Increase funding to address compensation issues – make Arizona competitive in the marketplace
- Acknowledge that the teacher retention crisis cannot be effectively curtailed without additional funding dedicated to teacher compensation
- Support a statewide increase in funding for K-12 schools to address teacher compensation issues
- Understand the competitive marketplace and the variety of other professions with which schools must compete for teachers [Arizona Department of Education Educator Retention and Recruitment Task Force, Initial Report, January 2015].
The Arizona Department of Education is saying you can’t solve a teacher shortage without spending more money on teacher pay to compete in the labor marketplace. Alas, so far, the Arizona Legislature’s only response appears to be legislation to make it easier for out-of-state teachers to get their Arizona teaching credentials.
South Dakota, we have no new wheel to invent. Arizona has carved that wheel for us. Go to the Blue Ribbon meetings in Watertown and Aberdeen, write this blog post’s URL on the sticky notes, and your work is pretty much done. The panel can erase a few numbers, pencil in South Dakota’s stats, then make the same basic, obvious recommendation: raise teacher pay.