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!):
- The FY2016 per-student allocation is $4,877.
- We have 129,772 students enrolled in our K-12 schools.
- Multiply those two numbers: we are allocating $632.9 million to K-12 education.
- 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.
- We have 9,362 K-12 teachers.
- Multiply teachers by average pay, and South Dakota is paying all K-12 teachers $374.7 million.
- Teacher pay thus makes up 59.2% of total per-student allocation spending.
- Flip that number: 40.8% of general fund expenditures go to something other than teacher pay (benefits, other staff, operating expenses, etc.).
- Divide students by teachers: 13.86 students per teacher.
- Raising pay from $40,023 to $48,000 requires $74.7 million in new revenue.
- That new revenue would mean total K-12 PSA spending of $707.6 million.
- If we kept all other spending the same, we’d be spending 63.5% of our K-12 general funds on teacher pay.
- Flip that number: the new “other” percentage for general fund spending would be 36.5%.
- To reach the $707.6 million total, we would need to allocate $75,580 per teacher.
- At the target student-teacher ratio of 13.86, the per-student allocation equivalent is $5,542.
- 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.