SD Legislature Values K-12 Education Less Than Every Neighboring State

The South Dakota Dashboard reminds legislators that Pierre really is responsible for South Dakota’s lowest-in-the-nation teacher salaries.

Processing Census data for FY 2013, the Dashboard reports that South Dakota’s K-12 per-pupil spending as a percentage of per-capita income is 47th in the nation and last in the region.

Graphic by South Dakota Dashboard, 2015.08.05
Graphic by South Dakota Dashboard, 2015.08.05.

South Dakota also trails every adjoining state in the percentage of the state’s total income spent on K-12 education:

Graphic by CAH/DFP
Graphic by CAH/DFP

If dollars measure the value we place on various public functions, our overall spending on K-12 education, including teacher salaries, show that South Dakotans value public education less than all of their neighbors do. Out of a $1,000 paycheck, we South Dakotans won’t even give $30 to our public schools. Minnesotans would give over $36; Nebraskans, almost $40; Wyomingians, $47.

We swirl in this toilet of fiscal neglect largely because of legislative miserliness. As I have reported multiple times since 2008, South Dakota is dead last in state effort to fund K-12 education:

When looking at revenue rather than spending, South Dakota is last nationally for the proportion of revenue coming from the state as related to personal income. For every $1,000 in personal income, the state of South Dakota sent $10.49 to schools compared to first place Vermont, which sent $50.23. The national average was $19.29 [“Education Data: South Dakota Last in Region for K-12 Spending in Relation to Personal Income,” South Dakota Dashboard, 2015.08.05].

We try to make up for the Legislature’s miserliness with higher-than-average local and federal funding, but that’s not enough to lift ourselves off the floor.

And for those of you who keep shouting, “You don’t make education better just by throwing money at it,” please, knock it off. Less money means fewer opportunities for kids. Ask Spearfish superintendent Dave Peters:

“The more resources you have, the more you can offer kids,” Peters said. “When I first started in this district, we cut $2 million out of the budget. In a school district this size, when you cut a staff member, you cut a program … and the vast majority of that still hasn’t been added back today.”

…Programs that were eliminated or reduced at the elementary level include: the gifted and talented program, the swimming program, the parallel block scheduling, and planning time and staff development.

…Middle school programs that have been eliminated or reduced include: foreign language, home economics, conflict resolution/peer mediation, industrial technology, alternative education, creative expressions (drama, art, writing), library, band lessons, staff development, and all sixth-grade extracurricular activities.

…[N]early 30 high school courses have been eliminated, including: advanced speech, American cultural studies, auto mechanics I, auto mechanics II, auto mechanics III, child development, clothing and textiles, creative writing II, drama II, electronics, family living, foods I, housing, independent living, industrial technology, jazz band, life skills, multi media art history, marriage and family, mixed mediums, music theory, mythology, nutrition and foods, power mechanics, survival cooking, swing choir, and journalism.

Nearly a dozen high school activities have been eliminated, and several others have been impacted by cuts in salaries, supplies, meals, travel, dues/fees, and professional services [Jaci Conrad Pearson, “SD Last in Region for K-12 Spending vs. Income,” Black Hills Pioneer, 2015.08.14].

How do we meaningfully fund K-12 education, the Governor’s Blue Ribbon K-12 panel asks? Once again, the answer is obvious, and the answer is in Pierre: South Dakota Legislature, stop blaming local districts and stop cheating schools of dollars and kids of opportunities. Find the political will that our local districts and every state around us are able to find and fund K-12 education as if it matters.

8 Responses to SD Legislature Values K-12 Education Less Than Every Neighboring State

  1. Donald Pay

    Ok, this data is informative, but maybe is not complete enough. My hypothesis is that when you take into consideration expenditures on education from current local and state revenue sources from the bottom 4 quintiles of personal income in South Dakota, you would find these folks are probably contributing nearly the same amount of money as other states’ residents. In other words, the poor, lower middle class, and middle middle class folks are contributing between 3.5 and 4.0 percent of their personal income to K-12 education through taxes. When you look at South Dakota’s top quintile, however, they are probably paying less than 2.5 percent.

    My hypothesis, then, boils down to this: that South Dakota state government’s failure to fund education is that it refuses to tax the upper middle class and the wealthy and put that money toward education. A properly constructed data set might be able to see if that hypothesis is supported or refuted by data.

  2. Donald, given the way SD taxes, I would guess that your numbers fall in the ballpark of reality. That then raises the question of how does our state raise needed revenue without having the regressive bite of current taxation policy? How does state government levy tax on only the wealthy?

    Is a statistical analysis on “fairness” compelling to that group, the wealthy, to uniquely shoulder the increase to fund vital needs (education) of SD?

  3. Donald Pay


    Well, I’d like the data first, and a commitment from the Legislators that they boost funding in a way that, at minimum, equalizes the cost of education across those personal income quintiles as much as possible. If that means taxing income progressively, then they had better be prepared to vote of it, or they can stop wasting the taxpayers’ money on meetings. I don’t think it makes sense to continue to pile tax increases on the folks who are already meeting the 3.5-4.0% surrounding state goal. Those taxes ought to be done in a way that those who have escaped fair taxation for generations now belly up to the bar and start paying their tab.

  4. Roger Elgersma

    This info says that the conservative idea that they just know how to not waste money is not the only reason education spending is so low. If they were that frugal in other spending areas then the percentage would not be lower even though the total is lower. I do agree with the previous points on where the money should come from. But these figures do show that it is just a lack of priority on education.

  5. Deb Geelsdottir

    I wish there was something new here. Instead, we see yet again that the SD/Koch legislature values their good standing with ALEC more than they value the state’s children.

  6. mercer says sunday: lower pay- “especially… [lower than our energy rich neighbors”. Yet Iowa and Nebraska are about the same as Montana, so his pro-republican bias (despite his recent recant) is inaccurate. That just leaves Wyoming and the adverb “especially” doesn’t fit, does it?!

    Yet he reports (at least by SUB-HEADLINE) an expert says teacher shortage just can’t be due to lowest pay for teachers. The RCJ editors are still shills for the SDGOP.

    There has to be “more nuanced” rationale-says mercer or his editors, digging deep for the reader! Legislators were “intrigued” by the expert’s dispersal of “myths”. Shortages are “normal” because of “turnover” since 1950 (what the hell does 65 years ago have anything do with the current CRISIS [oh, too strong a word, mercer?-not nuanced,not intriguing enough??] other than SDGOP’s 40 year reign)!!

    No. 1 reason: “job dissatisfaction”-goddamned teachers!!! (one should conclude, eh mercer?)

    And finally there is NSU. A creative University President could have perhaps figured out how to advance the requested assistance to the needy schools; (with his salary of six figures, surely, plus bennies)

    but no, “EB5 Command Center for Homeland Security Financial Infrastructure” Prez Smith, likely scared in his new role, after calling out Regents and NSU which became the national laughing stock over the failure to oversee the $600,000,000 laundering for “our/their employee??”/privatized SDRC Inc (or whatever the hell Joop’s/AG’s/Regents’/ NSU’s/our governors’ lawyers call it), blamed it on the legislative budget.

    perhaps there is still time for us, and mercer, to apply pressure where needed, AND PAY OUR CHILDREN’S TEACHERS.

    note too RCJ chose to highlight on the same front page a brand-new female science teacher who was safe, not some disgruntled, decorated veteran.

  7. Mercer’s choice to focus on the term, “myths” has done a great disservice to the actual content of the discussion. The “myth” is NOT the shortage (especially when SD specific information is used and we look to the number of unfilled positions in our state – the best measure of “shortage”); the “myth” was the thinking that the shortage was caused by the outflow of retirement not being replaced by inflow of new (to the profession) teachers (again only national data “dispels” this cause-effect “myth”). The truth at stands out still is that the reason there is a teacher shortage is teacher turn over. To me, that make the solution have to focus on the longevity of teachers professionally. We need to incentivize and support the entire span of a teaching career to keep our teachers. Luring in young teachers for a revolving door, short-term stint of public service is not the solution to the shortage.

    As for the “non-financial” reasons that teachers leave teaching, there is a financial tipping point where those reasons no longer are reasons. In my district we have lost young teachers for “personal reasons.” Especially young women have stopped teaching to stay home to raise children or to follow a spouse to a new job in a new community. Both have at their core the root cause of low pay. Parents choose to stay at home when the cost of day care substantially drains a low teaching salary – a high salary would change that decision to leave for many professional, working parents. If the teacher’s salary were higher, then the move to go with the spouse’s higher paying job would happen less often.

    Data can cover up more than it reveals. Good reporting should dig a bit to see which is the case.

  8. Note what O says about those young teachers leaving for “personal reasons” and how even those personal reasons have roots in low pay. Maybe Ingersoll’s testimony to the Blue Ribbon panel last week will turn out to be useful. If the Legislature decides to focus on retention, they may find themselves compelled all the more to raise teacher pay. Young teachers can be lured in the door by our paying off their college; getting them to stay will require making the job a long-term financial winner.