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Blue Ribboneers Call Plan “Package” Not “Menu”

If I’m writing articles about the Blue Ribbon K-12 panel, I might as well make a six-pack….

The final report of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Teachers and Students asserts that its 29 consensus policy recommendations are “a package, not individual menu options.” Fluff and nonsense: neither the eight major planks nor even the subpoints within each plank are necessarily integral to each other’s proper functioning.

Let’s look at the menu and analyze each entree [all come from the executive summary of the Blue Ribbon final report, 2015.11.11, pp. 2–4; I reorder and number the major planks]:

1. Recommendations for New Funding for Teacher Salaries

  1. At least $75 million in new ongoing funding for teacher salaries.
  2. Use existing funds to the greatest extent possible.
  3. Increase the state sales and use tax for additional ongoing revenue.

This plank, really the core of what the Blue Ribbon panel was supposed to do (or what Governor Dennis Daugaard wanted this eleventh summer study to delay us from doing for another year), could and should be enacted all by itself. Scrounge up the money through cuts and new revenue; give it to teachers to stop the teacher shortage. That action by itself is our practical and moral imperative. Order this entree, and K-12 education will be fat and satisfied for years.

2. Recommendations for New Funding Formula

  1. Adopt a new formula based on a statewide target for statewide average teacher salary of $48,000 and maintain the average statewide student-to-teacher ratio at approximately 14:1.
  2. Replace current small school adjustment with a sliding scale, depending on school enrollment, for the target student-to-teacher ratio.
  3. Retain the current statutory minimum inflation factor of 3% or inflation, whichever is less in the new formula.
  4. Reevaluate teacher salaries every three years to assure South Dakota remains competitive with surrounding states.
  5. No change to the Limited English Proficiency Adjustment.
  6. No change to the sparsity factor.

We don’t need to reform the funding formula to raise teacher pay $75 million. As I calculated yesterday, we’d get the same result by increasing the current formula’s per-student allocation 12%.

Even within this superfluous plank, the recommendations are mix-and-match, à la carte. One could argue that eliminating the small-school adjustment is not only not necessary to the plan but may harm small schools by failing to take into account other factors beyond staffing needs that burden small schools more than large schools. Alternatively, one could argue that if the new per-teacher allocation formula effectively accounts for the inefficiencies currently compensated by the small-school adjustment, it just as effectively accounts for the inefficiencies currently compensated by the sparsity factor.

3. Recommendations for Accountability

  1. Adopt mechanisms to monitor the implementation of the new formula
  2. Develop benchmarks, in particular for average teacher salaries, to ensure goals are met.

Entree #3 is like Cook’s Choice, a promise from the kitchen to heat up meat and veg. If it’s an integral part of the package, tell us what it is!

4. Recommendations for Voluntary Shared Services

  1. Authorize funds to expand shared state services.
  2. Create incentives for sharing personnel.

If the Legislature is inclined to do nothing (and we’re hearing that from the Republicans in District 24), this item might be the easiest for them to pass to make it look like they’ve done something. It increases state power, may reduce K-12 staff, and may justify spending even less on education (sounds like the real South Dakota Republican platform to me). And it doesn’t depend practically on any other action on the menu.

5. Recommendations for Statewide Innovations in Learning

  1. Double the e-Learning Center’s course offerings.
  2. Allocate funds for innovation in virtual education and customized learning.
  3. Appropriate $1 million in ongoing funds for learning innovation.

Online and distance learning are tasty. All schools and parents would be happy to see the Legislature expand these options for their students. But again, none of these options continge on anything else in the menu.

6. Recommendations for Additional Changes

  1. Reinstate statutory caps on school district general fund reserves.
  2. Develop a tiered reserve caps system based on school enrollments.
  3. Districts that exceed the reserve fund cap have its state aid payment reduced on a dollar-
    by-dollar basis.
  4. Phase in the caps over a three-year period.
  5. Establish an oversight committee to help districts with phase-in strategies for reserve
    caps, and assist when unique circumstances arise that may make the caps unrealistic.
  6. Eliminate the pension levy. The general education levies should be increased by 0.263
    mills which would raise the same amount that the pension levy currently raises.
  7. Equalize other revenue to establish greater equity by equalizing future growth in other
    revenue sources.

The Blue Ribboneers tell us they aren’t handing us a menu, but here’s a menu within the menu. 6.1–6.5 constitute one proposal to knock those darned districts who had the gall to save up money to insulate themselves against the Legislature’s miserliness. 6.6 is an independent clean-up item.

6.7 is an entirely separate reform, and one worth talking about. The Blue Ribboneers agree that there are a number of funding streams that unfairly benefit individual districts and instead should be seized by Pierre and shared among all school districts. They target six such streams:

  1. gross receipts tax on utilities;
  2. local revenue in lieu of taxes;
  3. county apportionment of revenue from traffic fines;
  4. county revenue in lieu of taxes;
  5. wind farm tax; and
  6. bank franchise tax.

“These six sources have the character of a state tax,” says the report [p. 29], “and allowing the dollars to stay local creates windfalls for certain districts and inequity across the state.” That’s a profoundly egalitarian statement, showing a commitment to equal educational opportunities across the state. But it’s not integral to raising the statewide average teacher salary or capping reserves.

7. Recommendations for Teacher Recruitment and Retention

  1. Full reciprocity be granted to teachers who are certified to teach in another state.
  2. Appropriate funds of $1 million annually for mentoring.
  3. Create a New Teachers Academy.
  4. Restore funding for National Board Certification.

The Blue Ribboneers had to make some nod to Richard Ingersoll, the teacher-retention expert whom they flew in to present his aging slideshow of national stats and not address any data or trends specific to South Dakota. But while Ingersoll said teachers need mentoring and other support, he said the big four reasons that teachers leave the profession are too little prep time, too many classes to teach, too many kids to teach, and too little pay. Nothing in these recruitment and retention recommendations changes those factors. But fund competitive teacher salaries, and more teachers will put up with those other conditions, and every item in this plank will be superfluous.

8. Recommendations for Phased-in Approach

  1. Fully implement all recommendations at the end of three years.
  2. With a phased-in approach, two points must be considered:
    1. $75 million in new funding for teacher salaries is intended as a supplement to the current appropriations for schools. If the new funding is phased-in over a period of years, it should be in addition to the inflationary increases required under current law.
    2. Target teacher salary of $48,000 was chosen based on the most recent available data. If the reforms are phased-in over period of years, the target salary must be increased in order to remain competitive with surrounding states.

Sure, Item #8 is integral to every other item on the menu. But it’s not an entree; it’s just timeframe. Whatever pizza we order, Dominos promises to deliver within thirty minutes. But that’s still an arbitrary number, one that may be too short for some items (why not give schools five years to spend down their reserves?) and too long for others (why let the teacher shortage linger? Raise teacher pay now and start recruiting!).

To assert that we have to take view the Blue Ribbon recommendations as an all-or-nothing integrated policy machine is to bluff pointlessly. There’s a whole lot of some between the Blue Ribboneers’ all or nothing.


  1. larry kurtz 2015-11-13 07:02

    More police interdiction: what a freaking surprise.

  2. larry kurtz 2015-11-13 07:08

    More bureaucracy, more pork for Republicans, more opacity, more opportunities for corruption: that’s not a six-pack, Cory, it’s Four Loco.

  3. Lynn 2015-11-13 07:12

    Another injection of anti-law enforcement rants in a lack of investment into our education system thread. Just another day on the DFP crazy train. Where is Jeffery Lump to comment this morning? Was banned for commenting?

  4. larry kurtz 2015-11-13 07:18

    Policing for Profit and civil forfeiture are not keys to the future, they’re ankle bracelets.

  5. Lynn 2015-11-13 07:30

    Given the month after month steady decline of the main opposition party being the SDDP and all the issues within that party it would be better to work from within the SDGOP. Either way change such as in education will happen gradually but more than likely it will happen faster within the SDGOP unless a new dynamic occurs being a competitive 3rd party. It won’t be the political party of drugs being the Libertarians. It would be something new.

  6. larry kurtz 2015-11-13 07:37

    Actually, the LP is very strong in Montana often nominating gifted candidates to statewide races in a state committed to democracy instead of to the SDGOP tyranny in a police state like South Dakota.

  7. Jeffrey Lump 2015-11-13 07:39

    Larry you know the forum rules, you must take your medicine with WATER before you type each morning. Now that Jihadi John is taken care of, Larry moves up the list.

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-11-13 08:08

    No, not more police interdiction, Larry. Revenue from traffic fines already goes to the local school districts; this plan just changes how that money is distributed.

    No, Lynn, Jeffery hasn’t been banned. He rightly pointed out that some comments were not just irrelevant but inimical to the discussion, and I responded by cleaning up that mess… which you and Larry are threatening to make break out here. Would you two like to get off your Sibby-horses and share ideas to help the reading public understand the Blue Ribbon plan? If not, go have your fight elsewhere.

  9. larry kurtz 2015-11-13 08:23

    Cory, you make Fred Deutsch look honest.

  10. larry kurtz 2015-11-13 08:25

    Jihadi John Thune makes Donald Trump seem sane.

  11. larry kurtz 2015-11-13 08:28

    The Blue Ribbon plan is exactly the smoke screen Nick and Paul are describing because they are trapped in a red moocher state where mass incarceration brings federal cash to the law enforcement/corrections industry.

  12. larry kurtz 2015-11-13 08:32

    Which part of this ALEC takeover of education in South Dakota escapes you people?

    Rep. Jacqueline Sly (R-33), ALEC Education Task Force Member

  13. Lynn 2015-11-13 08:57

    No fight here just continuing what 96 Tears had posted on another thread. Shall I continue on that thread as a way change what is happening in education?

  14. larry kurtz 2015-11-13 09:05

    Rave on, Lynn.

  15. Susan Wismer 2015-11-13 10:22

    Wow. That KCCR clip of Sen. Monroe and Rep. Duvall at the Stanley County School Board meeting is awful. I wonder if the board members and administrators just sat there and took it.

  16. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-11-13 10:26

    Indeed, Susan… and that kind of immediate and total rejection from such archconservative Republicans is why the Blue Ribbon Panel should not be coming forward with what feels like a compromise plan. They should be coming forward with a bigger, bolder plan asking for $150 million to make our salaries not just regionally competitive but regionally dominant to recruit all the teachers we need. Then we’d have some room to negotiate with the folks whose starting offer for K-12 education is zero.

  17. O 2015-11-16 17:05


    The task force recommendations were not intended to be a negotiating starting point. There was not an inflation in the data or numbers to whittle down to get to compromise; that was not the charge.

    We were tasked with addressing the loss of opportunity for SD students (and found a coordinate stress on teachers) caused by the teacher shortage caused by the low salaries paid in SD schools. It was a straight line causation developed from the best available data. That lead to proposals that go to the heart of those questions. This is not the opening salvo in a negotiations tactic – these are concrete measured solutions to the demonstrated problem SD faces.

    As much as the amounts were rooted in reality, so was the mechanism for addressing the need for at least (let’s not leave out that important phrase) $75M is a sales/use tax. When looking to funding of education in SD (in fact funding of the state budget in general), property taxes and sales taxes are the tools available now. Re-writing/creating tax code and financial distribution in our state was a step not central to the task force discussion. A thoughtful discussion about the reality and equity of how our state funds itself is certainly warranted, but have that discussion about the whole $4B budget, not only the new $75M corner being carved out for new salary money for teachers. Maybe the new $75m allocation (fate willing) is the tipping point for that larger systemic funding discussion, but don’t allow that to sidetrack the need the Task Force addressed, otherwise we run the risk of playing straight into the “no new taxes PERIOD” stonewallers.

    When leaping a chasm, it is best not to take half-measures.

  18. caheidelberger Post author | 2015-11-16 18:08

    Thanks, O, for that perspective. Does any of the data presented in the Blue Ribbon process indicate that $75M ($48K/yr) leaps the chasm? Does putting as at 39th for teacher pay, still last in the region, reverse the teacher shortage?

  19. O 2015-11-17 08:54


    Good question. Two reasons drew us to that number. 1) Being at the rate (within $600.00) of our lowest neighbor would put us in the same market as our neighbors. “Teachers will not cross a boarder for $600.00 to leave” was one comment made. Maybe it is that misery loves company, so we are now at least in the same boat as ND and not alone. 2) More the focus was on the retention factor that $48K a year has on current teachers. That jump provides a practical and symbolic shift in tone in the value given to teachers in SD. Retention is more an issue in the shortage than the pure retire-replace-with-new-to-profession-teacher input/output flow. Anecdotally, I can say that there have been teachers that leave for “family” reasons, an exit decision made easier because those teacher’s salaries did not anchor them to teaching (leaving because spouse took a better job) that now have more of an economic anchor to stay.

    I hope we also keep an eye on the growth that has to happen over time to keep pace with the jump forward proposed. The chasm we have now was not a singular event, but the erosion of decades. I hope we do not go back into immediately digging a new hole after setting a better path with these recommendations.

    I have talked to teacher leaders in Wyoming. They are the first to say that their state does not have a shortage. The way they retain a good pool of teachers is by paying their teachers very well.

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