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Crunching Blue Ribbon Numbers: Change K-12 Funding from Per-Student to Per-Teacher

The Blue Ribbon Task Force on Teachers and Students published its final report yesterday. The goals the Blue Ribboneers expressed at their final meeting remain the same: Raise South Dakota’s average teacher pay from $40,023 to $48,000 with $75 million in new revenue.

The fundamental specific reform among the 29 consensus (!) recommendations is an overhaul of the K-12 funding formula—not because changing the funding formula is necessary to raising revenue (I would argue it is not), but because it’s a “while we’re at it, why don’t we…” side project to tack onto this big change. “[T]he best time to make changes to the school funding formula,” says the report on page 22, “is when new revenue is being introduced.”

The Blue Ribboneers propose replacing the per-student allocation with a per-teacher allocation tied to an ideal student-teacher ratio. Actually, “ideal” may not be the right word: the Blue Ribboneers are pegging the target student-teacher ratio at just under 14-to-1 just because that’s South Dakota’s statewide ratio right now. They also propose replacing the current small school adjustment with a sliding scale for the target student-teacher ratio—smaller schools will get a slightly higher target ratio, and larger schools will get a slightly lower target ratio. Essentially, a per-teacher allocation tied to a target student-teacher ratio sliding for district size could achieve the same funding distribution as the current per-student allocation factored by the small-school adjustment; it just sounds better because, the Blue Ribboneers say, this new formula will actually reflect input costs.

The panel was able to agree on the current 14-to-1 student-teacher ratio as the base but not on the minimum and maximum figures for the sliding scale—they’ve asked the Department of Education to figure that out. So let’s focus on the 14-to-1 figure and work out what the new per-teacher allocation would look like (warning: math ahead!):

  1. The FY2016 per-student allocation is $4,877.
  2. We have 129,772 students enrolled in our K-12 schools.
  3. Multiply those two numbers: we are allocating $632.9 million to K-12 education.
  4. The average teacher salary in South Dakota in FY2014 was $40,023.

Pause there: an attentive budget hawk in the 2016 Legislature should point out that we should calculate the new money we have to add based not on raising teacher pay from the FY2014 average by $7,977 to $48,000 but that we should figure out what the average pay is right now, this school year. Surely teacher pay has risen a little bit over the last couple school years. If teacher pay has risen in proportion to the FY2015 3.36% increase and the FY2016 2.0% increase to the per-student allocation, then current average teacher pay should be $42,195. Raising that figure to $48,000 for 9,362 teachers would take only $54.3 million, not $74.7 million.

We can look at that figure and say, “Hey! We just knocked $20 million off the legislative mountain we must climb!” We can also look at that figure and say, “Fine, but let’s be bold (as the Blue Ribboneers say five times in the report they were charged to be) and raise pay by $8,000 over whatever it is right now.”

For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to run this scenario out based just on the numbers used in the Blue Ribbon report. Assume for now a $40,023 average teacher salary.

  1. We have 9,362 K-12 teachers.
  2. Multiply teachers by average pay, and South Dakota is paying all K-12 teachers $374.7 million.
  3. Teacher pay thus makes up 59.2% of total per-student allocation spending.
  4. Flip that number: 40.8% of general fund expenditures go to something other than teacher pay (benefits, other staff, operating expenses, etc.).
  5. Divide students by teachers: 13.86 students per teacher.
  6. Raising pay from $40,023 to $48,000 requires $74.7 million in new revenue.
  7. That new revenue would mean total K-12 PSA spending of $707.6 million.
  8. If we kept all other spending the same, we’d be spending 63.5% of our K-12 general funds on teacher pay.
  9. Flip that number: the new “other” percentage for general fund spending would be 36.5%.
  10. To reach the $707.6 million total, we would need to allocate $75,580 per teacher.
  11. At the target student-teacher ratio of 13.86, the per-student allocation equivalent is $5,542.
  12. If we didn’t have to go through the contortions of rejiggering the funding formula, we could simply say that the Blue Ribbon panel is raising the per-student allocation 11.8%.

An 11.8% increase from $4,877 to $5,542 may sound bold, but consider: if instead of scuttling education, the Legislature and Governors Rounds and Daugaard had maintained 3% annual increases in K-12 funding since 2010, our current per-student allocation would be $5,737, which under current funding ratios could have teacher pay at $47,081 and under the Blue Ribbon proposed spending ratio would put teacher pay at $50,505.

In South Dakota, “bold” doesn’t mean climbing a mountain; it means climbing out of the hole we dug for ourselves.


  1. larry kurtz 2015-11-12

    South Dakota would rather spend money on bad cops than on good teachers.

  2. owen reitzel 2015-11-12

    In this story by KELO the Governor talks about reform. Reform? Not really. The goal here is to raise teacher’s salaries to attract and keep teachers.
    I’m afraid Daugaard will use “reform” as an excuse to do nothing. You can talk about student to teacher ratios all you want but it shouldn’t change the goal of this panel.

  3. Janna 2015-11-12

    Another $1 tobacco tax increase would bring in tens of millions a year, needs to be on the table and conservatives will go for it – Kansas did it this year.

  4. owen reitzel 2015-11-12

    an example Larry

  5. larry kurtz 2015-11-12

    Owen: the examples of bad cops in South Dakota are too numerous to copy and paste here but Zac Bader would be a great place to start.

  6. owen reitzel 2015-11-12

    I’m not saying Larry that they’re not bad cops here in South Dakota. I’m saying you can’t make a broad statement like that.
    My son is a cop in South Dakota and he’s a good cop. I believe that most of the cops are good ones and that’s where I have a small problem with my liberal friends. Broad statements just can’t be made.
    Are there reforms needed? Sure. But the kind of rhetoric that’s being put out there is just making matters worse.

  7. larry kurtz 2015-11-12

    Matters could hardly get any worse than they are right now and South Dakota is proof.

  8. Greg 2015-11-12

    If we increased revenue for education by 75 million, how much would end up in teachers pockets. How much would end up in reserves and in a nice new charter style bus for the football team. Oh, I forgot the administrative salaries that are already more than competitive.

  9. owen reitzel 2015-11-12

    I’m with you Greg. That’s why if there is $75 million added it has to be earmarked for teachers salaries

  10. rsterling 2015-11-12

    What would be BOLD is for our legislators to develop a reliable new revenue stream to fund education. Adding sales tax just continues a regressive system that further impairs any real growth in our economy. There are many other revenue options other than an increase in the sales tax and/or property tax.

  11. Jeffery Lump 2015-11-12

    Because there is no bad teachers just bad cops, right Larry. Ignorant.

  12. larry kurtz 2015-11-12

    “are” no bad teachers: ignorant, indeed.

  13. larry kurtz 2015-11-12

    Little wonder cops abuse their families, alcohol, drugs, food, power, detainees and even occasionally murder their wives.

  14. larry kurtz 2015-11-12

    Policing for Profit through asset forfeiture bolsters the law enforcement/corrections industry: self-reliance or moral hazard?

  15. larry kurtz 2015-11-12

    Teacher merit pay would create the same corruption endemic in the South Dakota police industry.

  16. larry kurtz 2015-11-12

    Armed teachers will get hazardous duty pay and advanced firearms training at state expense, right?

  17. larry kurtz 2015-11-12

    What’s it going to cost to make every school an armed camp and which federal program will a red moocher state like South Dakota tap?

  18. larry kurtz 2015-11-12

    Police unions are protected while teachers’ unions are vilified: red state collapse on parade.

  19. larry kurtz 2015-11-12

    In Sioux Falls, South Dakota the median Police Patrol Officer salary is $52,848 with a range usually between $44,020-$62,370. However, within South Dakota there is a lot of variation in Police Patrol Officer salaries from town to town.

  20. Lanny V Stricherz 2015-11-12

    Janna, the last tobacco increase as well as the tobacco settlement were to go for education but both ended up in the general fund. Therein lies the problem. When the money ends up in the general fund the governor and his cronies can then tap it for whatever economic development issue they want and keep shortchanging education. Remember the 2010 election when Daugaard said he would not cut education and as soon as he was elected tried to cut it 10%. THe legislature only cut it 6%. These types of things keep getting not being paid attention to by the electorate, or if they are paid attention, the public apparently doesn’t care.

  21. Lynn 2015-11-12

    Blaming our lack of investment in education on our law enforcement? Another drug infused paranoid rant against law enforcement for doing what they are supposed to do? Trooper Bader was jumped and beaten while on duty, didn’t use lethal force and he is attacked now in an education thread?

    Good grief! It’s no wonder the SDDP brand is damaged so bad.

  22. larry kurtz 2015-11-12

    Can’t find the specifics but cops are overwhelmingly men and teachers are overwhelmingly women: therein lies the rub.

    Lynn’s point is off topic.

  23. larry kurtz 2015-11-12

    Bottom line: cops’ lives suck.

  24. Lynn 2015-11-12

    Just another day on the crazy train I see. lol

  25. larry kurtz 2015-11-12

    Put an excise tax on firearms and ammo.

  26. larry kurtz 2015-11-12

    Jack up rates on gun shows, firearms, ammo and tag the revenue for school resource officers.

  27. larry kurtz 2015-11-12

    Lynn, fwiw: i have cuts all my ties to SDDP and am urging DSCC and DCCC to do the same.

  28. Jeffery Lump 2015-11-12

    Grammar cop Cokoo Larry is out patrolling!! What a piece of work.

  29. larry kurtz 2015-11-12

    you miserable bastards.

  30. Lynn 2015-11-12

    Larry Who Resides in New Mexico,

    “Lynn, fwiw: i have cuts all my ties to SDDP and am urging DSCC and DCCC to do the same.”

    Yeah whatever! I keep thinking that these troopers are out by themselves on our highways and when they make a stop they never know what they will encounter. They have no immediate backup and have those that love them at home( Trooper Bader has a young family) some of which depend on them and Trooper Bader is lucky to be alive and yet you have repeatedly and viciously attacked this man. Those in law enforcement put themselves out there.

  31. Lynn 2015-11-12

    The tax system in South Dakota is long overdue to be overhauled. Will it happen in the near future? Not with the crazies sabotaging any chance for change.

  32. Bob Newland 2015-11-12

    To Lynn, who resides in her colon, and to SoDak legislators, who live there with her: Cops have to enforce laws created by assholes like you. Many of these laws cover activity over which you should have no interest (among those are whether or not I ingest cannabis, or anything else, voluntarily). Bad laws make bad cops.

  33. Lynn 2015-11-12

    Convicted Felon Bob Newland,

    Why don’t you fellas accept responsibility for your actions and quit blaming everyone else for your problems. You could start here.

    1.We admitted we were powerless over alcohol/Marijuana & other intoxicants—that our lives had become unmanageable.

    2.Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

    3.Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

    4.Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

    5.Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

    6.Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

    7.Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

    8.Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

    9.Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

    10.Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.

    11.Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

    12.Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other alcoholics/drug users, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

  34. Bob Newland 2015-11-12

    Here’s Lynn’s 12 steps; She…

    1. Didn’t admit she was powerless over other people, and continued to maintain that their lives had become unmanageable.

    2. Continued to believe that her idiocy could swing them to her stupid beliefs.

    3. Made a decision to turn their will and their lives over to the care of her idiocy.

    4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of everyone else.

    5. Admitted to God, to herself, and to anyone who’d listen the exact nature of their wrongs.

    6. Was entirely ready to have herself remove all the defects of character in those with whom she disagreed

    7. Haughtily asked everyone else to remove their shortcomings.

    8. Made a list of all persons who had disagreed with her, and became willing to insult them all.

    9. Made direct denigrations to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would implicate herself.

    10. Continued to take others’ personal inventory, and when they were wrong promptly jumped all over their s—, and when they were right promptly ignored it.

    11. Sought through continuous idiotic statements to make the lives of others unbearable and flew into rages when that didn’t work for her.

    12. Having had no spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, she tried to carry this message to anyone who would listen, and to practice these principles in all her affairs.

  35. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-11-12

    This topic is more important than your personal squabble. Take it elsewhere, Lynn and Bob.

  36. Lynn 2015-11-12

    Back on topic once again. The tax system in South Dakota is long overdue to be overhauled. Will it happen in the near future? Not with the crazies sabotaging any chance for change.

  37. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-11-12

    I’ll agree with Lynn: if a discussion of what could be the most important education funding policy since Bill Janklow took power is going to devolve into insults about cops and each other, then we deserve what we get, which will be no place at the table and no effective reforms.

    Any new reader coming to this article hoping to find intelligent discussion of the issue at hand will be puzzled and repulsed by most of what I see so far in this comment section.

  38. Roger Cornelius 2015-11-12

    Thank you Cory,

    One of problems that we seem to spend too much time discussing is the state personal income tax, as long as Republicans dominate the governor’s chair and state house it simply won’t happen. There are too many Republicans I know that laugh and scoff at the idea of an income tax.

    In fact, I worry about any tax increase without the assurance that the tax money will go to where it belongs. This state has a history of throwing money into the general fund and dividing it up according to their selfish priorities.

  39. larry kurtz 2015-11-12

    The majority of South Dakota Democrats favor a corporate income tax and other major reforms: rolling over on core issues is why the extremist Republicans whittle the fat end for those 20 earth haters who want to repeal the estate tax then leave the skinny end for those actually paying the bills.

  40. Lynn 2015-11-12

    Roger brings up an excellent point. 1st the press and public really have issues with open records laws here in South Dakota as they are now. Transparency is very difficult here and our citizens should be able to easily see exactly where the money goes and that it is not diverted to crony ventures.

    Here we had a major tax increase for roads this spring and I’ve questioned why a few I’ve traveled on often were repaved over concrete when they were still in very good condition and isolated patching would of worked while other roads were in terrible shape. With everything that has been going on it just casts doubt on whether it was to benefit a contractor or taxpayer.

    Regardless I do not look forward to another sales tax increase which further puts our revenue stream out of whack being very regressive.

  41. larry kurtz 2015-11-12

    Kill video lootery alone and the need for all that police interdiction becomes a fraction of what it is now. Want property tax relief, South Dakota? Adopt my template.

  42. Bob Newland 2015-11-12

    Everything is related to everything else.

  43. larry kurtz 2015-11-12

    Hey, Bob: what’s your solution for making South Dakota safe for Democrats and Libertarians?

  44. Bob Newland 2015-11-12

    There is no solution to that, Lar, unless they let me convert from a metaphorical to a real claw hammer.

    Seriously, there is no “solution.” A unicameral legislature might help, but I hold little hope that will happen, and little hope it would help.

    Those fixated on who puts what where are a constant annoyance.

  45. grudznick 2015-11-12

    Don’t put that there if it infringes on my what or costs me more.

    Keep your what over there, Bob, and you know you are OK in my book. Do not tax me just for you, Bob, and pay your own taxes. This was the breakfast taters discussion some time ago and you agreed, and I acknowledged your hat was swell.

  46. larry kurtz 2015-11-13

    Bob, you may be right in that SDGOP has concluded entropy is better than progress so get what you can from the system before it wears out.

  47. Donald Pay 2015-11-13

    I don’t like this switch. You have to ask yourself this question: why do you have education in the State Constitution. It isn’t so we can pay teachers. Yes, teachers are probably the most important hired part of any education system, but the most important part are students, and parents are the next most important.

    The current formula has the proper focus: students. The problem with the current formula and the proposed one is that it takes a top-down, rather than a bottom up approach. It doesn’t focus on individual student needs and motivators.

    I ran this by Janklow around 2000. He didn’t like it, which is not surprising since he liked his top-down approach that was more about property tax relief. But I think South Dakota is a small enough state that it could get federal or non-profit money to pilot a bottom-up approach. I don’t know exactly how it would be done, but maybe professional educators would be able to figure it all out, which is what I was after, really—a bottom-up approach to a new funding formula.

    So, what would it require? Pete Wharton, the ex-super at Rapid City Area Schools, had this plan to develop annually updated Individualized Education Plans for every student in the district. I thought these plans could then be used to develop a more consumer oriented approach to providing educational services.

    Here is what we say to students, “Here’s what the district provides: you’re going to be stuck in a classroom and you get what everyone else gets.” But every student is different, and what they need may require different inputs. One student needs a music course. It’s often not an “elective” to them, but something that sustains their interest in even being in school. Another needs debate, while someone else needs a tutor to catch up on math. All these inputs will be different for every child. The teacher will, of course, be teaching multiple students in a class, but should always be aware that different students need different motivations and approaches.

    Standardized testing and all the other informations teachers and parents have about a student would be used, not by state bureaucrats to punish teachers and humiliate students, but by the student/parent/teacher/administrator team to develop a bottom-up approach to educating that student.

    We sort of do this with special education already, a student’s needs and program is developed by a team, and budgets are determined by those needs and program.

  48. grudznick 2015-11-13

    Mr. Pay, that is all swell and good. But Janklow is dead and even Beth would think that you need to get a grip on yourself, sir. I think that Mr. H getting all tongue tied with young Ms. Krebs and stuff is all fine and good for a fellow like him but you and I are older, and I have seen more than you. I think that we need to realize that if we don’t weed out the teachers that are not good by paying the good teachers more, and the really good teachers even more, then our world is doomed. Doomed. Pay the good teachers more and take the money from the fatcat administrators.

  49. leslie 2015-11-13

    grudz u keep saying this over and over and it is meaningless

  50. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-11-14

    Donald, thank you for an intelligent take on the philosophical underpinnings of a per-student allocation and a per-teaching allocation. I’m intrigued by the notion that the current formula is superior because it focuses on students. But can’t we argue that teachers can be as central to the equation? Can’t we say we value students by valuing teachers?

    I can see the morality of budgeting based on assessing the needs of every student and thus possibly assigning different dollar amounts to each student. The current formula does that along one limited parameter, ESL needs (kids learning English as a second language have additional needs, so we adjust their schools’ funding upward). I struggle with the practicality of doing that assessment at the state level for every student. (Remember, the Legislature still needs two whole months for a joint appropriations committee to churn out a document that everyone rushes through on the last day.) Might a teacher-based allocation be a proxy for that massive effort? Might it say, “We legislators aren’t equipped to assess 130,000 individual students’ unique needs and assign 130,000 different dollar figures, but we know that teachers can figure out those needs, and the regional market tells us that to get those teachers, we need to pay, on average, $48,000”?

    I’m not convinced; I’m just looking for some logic behind this switch from per-student to per-teacher allocation.

    The Blue Ribboneers’ logic is that the current per-student formula is not based on any “tangible input” (see p. 15). No one that I know of does a spreadsheet and says that educating a child costs X for the teacher, Y for paper, Z for crayons, and it all adds up to $4,877. The per-student allocation doesn’t go to Shopko and price paper and crayons, let alone figure out how much the kids will use. The per-teacher allocation goes to Shopko—actually, Fargo and Mankato—and prices teachers. Might that method be philosophically suspect but practically useful?

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