I noted yesterday that the most important words spoken at the Aberdeen sessions of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Teachers and Students may have been co-chair Senator Deb Soholt’s statement of the parameters for the panel’s K-12 funding discussions, which may help beat back some of the excuses legislators and the governor have previously used to avoid fixing South Dakota’s embarrassing, student-harming status of offering the lowest average teacher salary in America for the last three decades.
Enter Rep. Lana Greenfield (R-2/Doland), who appears determined to cling to some excuse for the Legislature not to raise teacher pay. Rep. Greenfield attended the educator and general public listening sessions of the K-12 task force in Aberdeen Tuesday. During at least one table discussion at the public session where participants were saying pretty strongly that the schools need more money to recruit and retain teachers, Rep. Greenfield defied Governor Daugaard’s hushing and told her table-mates that there’s a teacher shortage nationwide, so raising teacher pay won’t do any good.
Former teacher Rep. Greenfield was repeating an argument that she began making before she took office, last December, when she said we need to figure out how to get people to enter teacher training programs rather than talk about raising pay. It further echoes her effort to divert our policy talk from low teacher pay with her implicitly accusatory assertion that good teachers don’t worry about their personal financial gain and dedicate themselves to the kids first.
Loving kids does not oblige a teacher to work for free (which, compared to the going wage in surrounding states, one could argue South Dakota teachers do for 41 days out of a 180-day school year). The decline in workers interested in teaching does not justify failure to raise teacher pay. Quite the opposite: if not enough people are going into teaching, simple market economics tells us we have to raise wages to balance supply of labor with demand for services.
Ignoring those simple principles requires Rep. Lana Greenfield to adopt a willful blindness to the harm her Legislature and her party have perpetrated on South Dakota’s K-12 education system.
When other folks at the table told Rep. Greenfield that a nationwide shortage of teachers should not stop us from trying to recruit more, the Doland legislator said something about how such competition between states turns into “cannibalism” or a “dog-eat-dog” situation. Another participant at the table said this task force and this Legislature are here to take care of South Dakota first. I think I said something like, “Let’s listen to the market and eat the dog.”
Even Governor Daugaard should reject Rep. Greenfield’s implication that we should not raise teacher pay for fear of competing with other states. The Governor’s Office of Economic Development works daily to raid businesses and workers from other states. Why would we hesitate to compete with other states for the best teachers in the country… unless deep down we fear we’d lose a heads-up pay battle with Minnesota… or unless deeper down we just don’t want to pay teachers what the market says they are worth?
Let’s not be cowards or cheapskates. Let’s ignore Rep. Greenfield’s excuses. If teacher shortages abound—in Nevada, Arizona, North Dakota, New York, Texas, and California—that’s more reason, not less, to take serious action. And the most serious and straightforward action South Dakota can take is to put more money in teachers’ pockets.