Press "Enter" to skip to content

Low Salaries Driving Teachers out of South Dakota Since 1968

A familiar headline comes across my desk: “Salary Dilemma Drives Teachers out of State.” According to the article, more than 46% of the newest annual crop of South Dakota college graduates working as teachers are teaching in other states:

According to the annual survey of teacher placement in South Dakota, the problem of staffing schools in the state will become more acute as South Dakota continues to lag behind salaries paid in surrounding states. While the supply of four-year elementary teachers seems to be increasing, it is still not in sufficient numbers to meet the demand.

Shortages in the secondary schools still exist in the areas of English, music, library, industrial arts, guidance, women’s physical education, languages, math, and science.

The survey also made note that more out-of-state recruiters are coming to South Dakota to obtain teachers [CN, “Salary Dilemma Drives Teachers out of State,” The Exponent, 1968.11.15, p. 2].

This report comes from the The Exponent, the Northern State College student newspaper, in November 1968.

CN, "Salary Dilemma Drives Teachers out of State," NSC Exponent, 1968.11.15 (click to embiggen!)
CN, “Salary Dilemma Drives Teachers out of State,” NSC Exponent, 1968.11.15 (click to embiggen!)

Forty-seven years ago, we were having the same conversation about a South Dakota teacher shortage, and we were hearing the same obvious answer:

According to a survey made two years ago by Dr. [Dennis] Kraft [head NSC director of student teaching], the mobility rate for teachers with a year or more of experience was 25.8 percent in South Dakota, compared to a national mobility rate of 10 to 15 percent. Of the South Dakota teachers who left their 1965–66 positions, about 30 percent went into another line of work. Of those who remained in the profession, about half left the state.

The study indicated that teachers who leave the state realize a greater increase in salary than those who remain. Dr. Kraft cites the salary factor as the major reason for teacher turn-over, followed by dissatisfaction with administrators, opportunity for promotion, desire for further education, and migration of family [CN, Exponent, 1968.11.15].

In 1968, South Dakota ranked in the 40s for teacher pay. Faced with a teacher shortage, we slipped to the bottom by 1985 and have stayed there ever since.

This 1968 report says the South Dakota Education Association was recommending a base salary of $7,150 for teachers with a four-year degree. Two years later, in the 1970–71 school year, South Dakota’s average teacher pay (not the base, but the average for all teachers) was $6,793, 73.3% of the national average. Last year South Dakota’s average teacher salary was 70.7% of the national average.

NSC’s Dr. Kraft said the problem wasn’t just pay. He noticed that schools with fewer than 100 students had more than double the rate of teachers leaving than larger schools.

South Dakota will continue to educate a large number of teachers for other states unless changes are made. Dr. Kraft recommends that salaries should be raised equal to or above those of the adjoining states, which draw off many teachers, and that existing school systems should be reorganized in order to realize the increased enrollment necessary to retain teachers and offer a better educational program [CN, Exponent, 1968.11.15].

South Dakota consolidated school districts right around the time of Dr. Kraft’s observation, but the state has continued to neglect teacher pay. For at least two generations, we have coasted on luck and love, the good luck of finding just the right hardy corps of teachers willing to sacrifice for an entire career out of love for their hometown kids and their state. But stagnant rural populations, a more mobile and more connected workforce, and increasing economic demands mean South Dakota can’t keep getting its milk for free. 47 years later, it’s time to listen to Dr. Kraft: raise teacher pay to compete with other states.


  1. Nick Nemec 2015-07-08 08:35

    And sadly low teacher salaries will continue to drive teachers out of SD. The Blue Ribbon Task Force will do nothing, or rather will make much noise, using smoke and mirrors to fool the public into thinking the problem is solved while doing nothing of substance. SD teachers will continue to be the lowest paid in the nation.

  2. Porter Lansing 2015-07-08 08:37

    If the conservative spine that supports the state had even a modicum of flexibility South Dakota would be more attractive to those of a higher intellectual realm. It’s as natural as water flowing downstream; the best and brightest students lead the way out and the teachers see no alternative.

  3. happy camper 2015-07-08 10:40

    We wouldn’t have to pay these teachers no more money if we went back to basics. Keep it simple stupid. It was good enuf for us and we came out jus fine. Be thankful for everything God gave you, stop complaining and go do your chores.

  4. MJL 2015-07-08 10:47

    That answer can be summed up with a comment of a retired teacher told me when he brought up the subject to a legislative member many years ago. The individual basically told him that if you can whip a mule and get the results out of him, why would you give it more in a reward (loosely quoted). South Dakota has for the most part done very well in national comparisons on things like national tests and ACT tests. That is why I am still skeptical that anything real will come out of the panel discussions.

  5. Greg 2015-07-08 13:11

    If our schools received more money would the teachers end up with it anyway. We hear about teachers leaving the state for more money but if we take a close look at how our schools are run we could see that most schools have added extra sports. We could also see large increases in pay for administrators, adding athletic directors and many assistant coaches. When are we going to ask local school boards, where the hell are our priorities. We need to get back to the basics of education and raise some revenue and pay teachers a fair wage.

  6. Porter Lansing 2015-07-08 15:22

    Excuse me, but as an outsider hearing “get back to the basics”, I cringe. South Dakota needs to explore every new and different educational path available and being researched. It should be a model of experimentation in alternative education where it would no doubt lead the nation. After all, you’ve got a pure white control group to work with and enough money in the “rainy day fund” doing nothing to become something special. The “continually contrary” stance of the conservative spine and the “find something wrong first” approach to anything new leads to just more Republican stagnation in teachers satisfaction with their positions.

  7. grudznick 2015-07-08 15:27

    I just don’t understand why our teachers, even the best of them, average $40,000 in salary when the state’s per-pupil spending indicates that number should be a full $10,000 higher. Experts from national sources studied every state and say our schools are not paying teachers as much as they should based on how much money the state gives the schools.

    So tell me, what fat cat administrator is going to step up and tell us where that money goes? It is time to go down to 50 school districts.

  8. Donald Pay 2015-07-08 16:50


    It’s been established that for more than 30 years, and probably for much longer, the state’s share of education funding on a per student basis is about half of surrounding states, while local effort is about equivalent to local effort in surrounding states (on a per student basis). Further, administrator salaries are high, but about equivalent to surrounding states, while teacher salaries are not.

    While I do agree that some consolidation is warranted, your number of 50 might be a tad low. Even if you get down to 50 districts, it’s not going to be the answer to the teacher salary issue.

  9. owen 2015-07-08 18:45

    You might be right Grud to reduce to 50 districts but I dare you to go to the towns that will lose their school and explain why they are losing them.

  10. Charlie Richardson 2015-07-09 06:56

    Greg makes a valid point. Even if the state were to completely revise the state funding formula and monies were made available to school districts, who’s to say those districts would use the increase to fund teacher pay? It baffles me to understand why school districts continue to sock money away in “rainy day” reserves, when teachers are leaving the state in droves and administrators complain of teacher shortages. I agree that academics have become so secondary to that sacred cow (sports), that unless and until that line of thinking is reversed, nothing will change. For example, why do sports always trump the arts? There are a number of districts that have cut music programs (band and chorus, etc.) due to a lack of available music directors, yet our football and basketball teams have a head coach and as many as six assistant coaches. Where are our priorities? Nothing is getting done at the state level. The answers may be elusive to some, but until we start holding our local school boards accountable and ask the tough questions, they will just throw the ball back into the state’s hands and say, sorry, our hand are tied. We just don’t have the funds for salary increases. The governor’s blue ribbon task force was put in place to appease the constituents that were making the most noise about teacher pay and shortages. Until Dennis Daugaard and his republican legislature start treating education funding and teacher pay as an investment instead of an expense on a balance sheet, I see no changes forthcoming.

  11. larry kurtz 2015-07-09 07:23

    My mom taught in Lake Benton starting in 1968 because wages in South Dakota suck so badly but the curious irony of Elkton absorbing the Lake Benton district because the EHS superintendent squirreled away cash has become just a footnote in history.

  12. happy camper 2015-07-09 08:36

    How much of this has to do with the disproportionate number of women in teaching? The history is discriminatory. Early on in SD women had to quit teaching if they got married. An aunt of ours thought men should be paid more than women (as supporters of the family presumably). We’ve been indoctrinated with values far behind the rest of the country. Cultural shifts are extremely slow in our state that resists change. If it ain’t broke…, but it is broke. And recognized since 1968 so it’s gonna change now? Don’t hold your breath.

  13. Porter Lansing 2015-07-09 09:34

    By rejecting the “find fault first” Republican mantra Sodak has the opportunity to explore, expand and think forward as no other state could do. e.g. ( The students will do the majority of their classwork at home on the Internet and spend approximately two days per week at the museum working on various projects. Students are assigned a teacher online who they can speak with online and on video chats. The students will also meet as a class once a week in person. The second day at the museum will be individually scheduled.)

Comments are closed.