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.
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.