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Arizona Already Did South Dakota’s Blue Ribbon K-12 Task Force Work: Raise Teacher Pay

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.


  1. Dr. Math 2015-06-22

    I know three young female science teachers leaving the state this coming year. Two of them have Bachelor’s degrees (plus some credits) and one is completing a Master’s degree. Here are the stats: one of the Bachelor’s degree teachers is moving to Minnesota and getting a $10,000 pay increase, the other Bachelor’s degree teacher is moving to Wyoming and earning $16,000 more than she did in SD, and the one working on her Master’s is moving to Minnesota for a $12,000 pay increase. All of them are moving so their significant other has better job opportunities–that also speaks to other issues in SD.

  2. Shirley Harrington-Moore 2015-06-22

    Blue Ribbon task force is smoke and mirrors. Republicans don’t give a darn for education for the masses. They have theirs but we don’t need any.

  3. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-06-22

    What Shirley said x 1000.

  4. djt 2015-06-22

    I predict that the most that will come out of the BRTF is some kind of concurrent resolution praising the dedication of SD teachers.

    It comes down to money and the Republicans simply aren’t going to loosen the purse strings unless it helps big business.

  5. Roger Elgersma 2015-06-22

    Sticky notes. That is to make a teacher think she is being listened to just like when a child thinks they are being listened to. At the end of the day, sticky notes get put in a ball and thrown away. They are not meticulously pulled apart for future use as data or anything else other than to fill a landfill. They just made you feel good.
    My brother in law taught in Phoenix about ten years ago. They outlawed homework since 80% of the kids did not do it anyways. So the parents that wanted their kids educated started a thousand charter schools. So those teachers who want to do good education would leave. Or at least go to the charter schools.
    So if we actually believe in a work ethic and that the kids should study hard, and the teachers still leave it is more for the lack of money than in Arizona. Lack of money would probably be a larger share of the problem here than there. Seeing a disaster like Arizona and then see them trying harder to fix it than we are is disappointing. The kids are learning that if you try hard enough and keep doing a good job when not being paid, that they will keep on taking advantage of you with no improvement. They forget the long term effect on the kids view of what happens if you do not get good pay for a good job.

  6. mhs 2015-06-22

    There’s maybe a few other other minor things driving AZ’a problems: 1) corrupt local school boards are rampant; 2) They just elected a State Education Commissioner who makes Lora Hubble and Liz May look like reasoned, thoughtful public servants; 3) the legislature continues to pass bills calling for the arming of teachers, kindergartners and even even the lab rats; and 4) nearly half of public schools are converting to charter schools to take advantage of a quirk in state law that allows a higher per-student reimbursement for charter schools, with no definition of what a charter school should be.

    Couple the above nuttiness with continued poor economic conditions that mean no pay hikes anytime soon, it’s little wonder folks are bailing from the profession.

  7. Chris S. 2015-06-22

    How many Blue Ribbon™ task forces do we really need? Everybody knows they’re a sham designed to kick the can down the road to a point where (hopefully) the electorate’s short attention span is focused somewhere else. It’s so depressingly predictable.

  8. Donald Pay 2015-06-22

    Just to follow up on Chris S.’s post, I am tired of these “blue ribbon” task forces, commissions, committees, etc., too. Obama had a Blue Ribbon Commission on Radioactive Waste, which, if it goes according to Obama’s and Daugaard’s plan, will end up with South Dakota being a nuclear waste sacrifice area.

    But “blue ribbon” seems to be a particular favorite of South Dakota governors. I don’t recall what my committee on mining law reform was called, but I hope Gov. Mickelson didn’t call it “blue ribbon.” Janklow had a “blue ribbon” something on education, too. He appointed no teachers to it. History just repeats itself in South Dakota, as both Janklow and Daugaard refused to fund education, but sought nuclear waste dumps. Living in South Dakota is a bad acid trip with recurrent flashbacks.

    Generally blue ribbons signify “first place” in fairs and stuff, but often you have “best of show” ribbons given out, and they are almost always purple. Why not rename this one the “Purple Ribbon Task Force?” Blue ribbons also signify testicular cancer awareness. Lots of jokes to be made there.

  9. PNR 2015-06-23

    While I think improving teacher pay is part of the solution, it isn’t the whole solution. Nor is a strict state-by-state comparison particularly valid apart from an inclusion of those states’ cost of living (a significantly higher paycheck in California, for instance, does not necessarily translate into a higher standard of living).

    Still, if we are serious about improving educational outcomes in South Dakota’s schools, we must be willing to pay enough to attract high quality teachers. Tying increases in teacher pay to improvements in teacher accountability would be, I think, a useful way to push it through a fairly conservative legislature. We do want to make sure that, if we are going to pay more, we get (on average) those quality teachers.

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-06-23

    PNR, I’ve done the cost-of-living analysis numerous times. South Dakota still comes out at the bottom in our region.

    We don’t need to tie pay increases to new requirements, more bureaucratic hoops, or additional work. South Dakota pays teachers less than they deserve for the work they are already doing. Teachers can get a raise by moving to any additional state without facing more “accountability” (conservative code for, “Can’t trust teachers!). We should raise pay, period.

  11. larry kurtz 2015-06-23

    Why anyone teaches in South Dakota for any amount of money remains a mystery.

  12. mike from iowa 2015-06-23

    Shouldn’t hand the 1% more of our treasury unless/until they create millions more jobs in ‘murrica
    Who am I kidding.Wingnuts will never hold their sugar daddies accountable..

  13. o 2015-06-23

    PNR: “Tying increases in teacher pay to improvements in teacher accountability would be, I think, a useful way to push it through a fairly conservative legislature.”

    Done and done. From the ashes of the 1234 legislation came a cooperative effort between SDEA and the SD DOE (with help from administrators and school board members). The Commission on Teaching and Learning (CTL) created a robust teacher effectiveness/growth model tool based on best practices that provides clearly observable evaluation criteria to assess and promote teaching effectiveness and an accountability component (Student Learning Objectives – SLOs) that require a measurement of measurable student achievement growth.

    One common side-step technique in these financial discussions is to throw out the red herring of “no accountability.” That has to end. The model/tool/requirement is in our schools now. Let us get back to addressing the real crisis SD education faces: the shortage of teachers that is driven by the low wages unique to classroom teachers in SD.

    a second way to side-step the discussion is to state “While I think improving teacher pay is part of the solution, it isn’t the whole solution.” Really? I am confounded by how many claim “other causes” to teachers leaving the state, but there is never evidence to the existence or weight of these other, non-salary considerations. Certainly this is a complex issue, but ignoring the heart of the matter to fixate on the trivial (or nonexistent) sidelines the real issues and is not helpful to get to the resolution.

  14. grudznick 2015-06-23

    It is great that there is now accountability and these teachers have figured out how to sort themselves out to some degree. More money will no doubt follow. I am for that.

  15. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-06-23

    O, excellent comment, especially this:

    “Certainly this is a complex issue, but ignoring the heart of the matter to fixate on the trivial (or nonexistent) sidelines the real issues and is not helpful to get to the resolution.”

  16. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-06-23

    O, I heard your sentiment on the absurdity of sidestepping tonight at the public Blue Ribbon meeting in Aberdeen, where two tables I joined said additional revenue is the obvious, dominant answer. Of course, the two members of the public offering that sober assessment were school administrators. I’ll have full coverage on today’s Aberdeen meetings in Wednesday’s blog cycle!

  17. o 2015-06-23

    Deb, thank you. I have not been in a serious discussion yet when someone says that “salary is not the only issue,” to then have them then go on to make the argument that IN ADDITION to raising salary, we ALSO must do X to help our districts recruit and retain great teachers for our students. “Other reasons” always seems to be the rhetorical tool used to (paradoxically) reduce the scope of solutions.

    I will echo Cory’s observation that at the Watertown listening sessions (which I believe went quite well), the salary and funding issue is getting front-and-center attention from teachers AND administrators. Many legislators also participated and were great resources. At times they took some lumps from comments, but never bit back or spoke against any ideas given.

  18. Sue 2015-11-13

    Teachers are well paid for the cost of living in SD. We are paid lowest because it costs the least to live here. How about other professionals like deputies or social workers? They sacrifice for the good of humabity, work 12 months a year & are paid less then a teachers current salary.

  19. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-11-13

    Sue, please read the Blue Ribbon panel’s final report issued this week. The Blue Ribbon panel concludes that even when we factor in things like cost of living, we are still behind every neighboring state in teacher pay. I agree that lots of professions are underpaid in South Dakota. But the comparison to other professions is irrelevant. The teacher shortage is not caused by wages in other professions. The teacher shortage is caused by the fact that teachers can make much better wages for the work they love and have trained to do everywhere else.

  20. Travis Wicks 2015-11-13

    Sue, I know that’s not the case with social workers, since I’m married to one… she has always made far more than I do as a teacher. Of course, she is a fully licensed and qualified social worker who got both her Bachelor’s and Masters at state universities in Minnesota.

    The qualifications for being titled a social worker in SD isn’t quite as rigorous as it is for most states, so she can do more than a social worker who graduated from Presentation College or USD’s still-very-young program.

    And back to the main issue; Cory’s right. Comparing teacher’s salaries to other professions isn’t pertinent to the problem. If you do that, then you could instead compare it to how much fully licensed nurses or bankers make, because they require same amount of college education to enter their respective professions, and I believe the pay is better and more competitive than being a teacher.

  21. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-11-14

    Thanks for the facts, Travis. We need to tamp down the misinformed envy and teacher-bashing (yes, we understand the meaning and the fallacy of the “12 months” dig) and face facts: we aren’t paying teachers enough to keep a qualified teaching pool in South Dakota.

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