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Daugaard Endorses Blue Ribbon Teacher Pay Raise Plan… Boldly… I Guess

I wrote my open letter to Governor Dennis Daugaard yesterday suspecting that the Governor wouldn’t just advocate the Blue Ribbon K-12 panel’s plan to raise teacher pay. I thought he’d hold teacher pay raises hostage to force us to revisit 2012’s teacher-hating House Bill 1234. I thought his initial noncommittal response to the Blue Ribbon plan meant he would spend the two months between report release and 2016 Session to come up with conservative-hobbyhorse ideas to stamp his own image on the plan and put the screws to teachers.

But Governor Daugaard didn’t go down any such counterproductive political path. In his State of the State speech in the Capitol today, he did not offer any wild new plan of his own. He did not mention merit pay, continuing contract, vouchers, charter schools, or any other conservative hobbyhorses. He didn’t even water down the already minimal Blue Ribbon plan. He pretty much just said, Do what the Blue Ribbon plan says, and do it now.

Governor Daugaard’s basic plan is to increase South Dakota’s average teacher pay from $40,023 to $48,500 (the Blue Ribboneers recommended at least $48,000). Multiplied by over 9,300 teachers, that new average requires over $79 million in new revenue. Governor Daugaard proposes raising the state sales tax from 4% to 4.5%, which he indicated would raise about $120 million. Governor Daugaard would dedicate $79 million to raising teacher pay, then put the rest toward cutting property taxes.

Here are the most important things Governor Daugaard said about teacher pay in his speech in the Capitol today to justify the Blue Ribbon plan:

  1. The teacher shortage is real, supported by anecdote and data.
  2. Salaries aren’t the only reason we are short on teachers, but we can’t fix the shortage unless we raise salaries.
  3. Even when we adjust for cost of living, South Dakota still falls behind surrounding states in teacher pay.
  4. “The only way to become more competitive is to increase our state’s average teacher salary.”
  5. “This is the year to get out of last place. This is the year to act.”

Points 1, 2, 3, and 4 help limit the debate in the coming two months. We are done arguing about whether we are short on teachers. We are done arguing about other non-salary factors that drain the teaching pool. We are disposing of the fantasy that our mythical cost of living advantage makes up for our low teacher pay.  We are done pretending that we can recruit teachers with no-cost/low-cost gimmicks. In these four points, Governor Daugaard is embracing the logic not just of this blog (it’s about darn time!) but of the free market: if you want more workers, you have to offer more pay. (My goodness: imagine the revolution that may be afoot in the Governor’s thinking on workforce issues in general!)

Point 5 also helpfully limits the debate—to this session, this winter, this Legislature. The Governor isn’t waiting for our neighboring states to pull even further ahead of us. He’s not asking for a gentle phase-in. He’s saying the problem is urgent enough that we must act now. And yes, the Legislature can implement this tax increase in time to allow schools to start writing bigger checks this August.

Average teacher pay in South Dakota and adjoining states, AY 2014. Data from NEA; chart by SDDP.
Average teacher pay in South Dakota and adjoining states, AY 2014. Data from NEA; chart by SDDP.

SDEA President Mary McCorkle was gushing about the Governor’s “bold” plan. I can’t gush. It bothers me that “bold” in South Dakota still means increasing a regressive tax and still leaving South Dakota teachers earning less than their neighbors in any neighboring state.

Governor Daugaard’s plan does lift us from 51st to 37th in the nation and puts us within $200 of 36th-place North Dakota. He offers teachers that raise without all the awful things I thought he might try to impose. This plan doesn’t strive to make us the best; it just tries to drag us out of the gutter… and Governor Daugaard is the first South Dakota governor in decades to offer a serious plan to get us out of the gutter. That’s bold… for a South Dakota Republican… I guess.

Democratic legislators say Governor Daugaard’s plan is flawed; they offer their own bolder plan to raise pay and benefits without cutting teachers. We’ll talk about that sticking point (ah, the new funding formulas, based on target teacher-student ratio) and the Democratic alternative in an upcoming post.


  1. larry kurtz 2016-01-12 18:08

    If Denny hadn’t said ‘conservative’ and ‘frugal’ he could have had a ‘D’ glued to his forehead during that entire oratory. Gobsmacked l am.

  2. grudznick 2016-01-12 18:25

    I am very disappointed he did not insist that good teachers get bigger raises, say to $49,750. We will have to see how this law bill comes out dealing with teacher ratios and making sure fatcat administrators don’t suckle off the biggest chunk of this money.

  3. grudznick 2016-01-12 18:32

    I would be remiss if I did not congratulate Mr. H. His letter seems to have turned Governor Daugaard around.

  4. Roger Cornelius 2016-01-12 18:59

    Well done Cory, well done.

    However, I can’t resist saying ‘how about them tax and spend conservatives’.

  5. leslie 2016-01-12 19:13

    Great advocacy cory; though not a teacher, I, you have moved daugaard it seems obvious by your work and commentors persistence. Will the legislators follow? Tightwads?

  6. grudznick 2016-01-12 19:24

    It is truly amazing that Mr. H’s letter caused such a huge re-write of the Governor’s speech nearly overnight. Those debate lessons clearly paid off, back in the day. Just wait until the DFP law bills start hitting the committees and the debates begin there. Except for DFP #2, which is DOA unless he removes the disenfranchising part and adds the part about abolishing Buffalo Chip City.

  7. owen reitzel 2016-01-12 19:33

    I’m cautiously optimistic. I think we’ll find out all much power the Governor really has. If this falls through Daugaard is going to look pretty bad.

    But sadly the excuses are already coming out led by House Majority Leader Brian Gosch who said, “To do two tax increases in a row, back-to-back is tough,” he added, referring to revenue increases lawmakers approved last session for road and bridge funding.

    That’s telling me that Gosch, and my guess more then him, cares more about roads then about the kids in South Dakota.

  8. BOHICA 2016-01-12 21:28

    Give Daugaard his props on this issue. He may be setting the stage for ‘I tried’ type of scenario..and the 105 legislators may prove him wrong. But I think the BRTF forced the issue to at least engage these people in a discussion that may cost them their job if they make the wrong decisions…as voters, we are awaiting their decision. An informal poll of voters already showed 60% in favor of an increased sales tax (I know, regressive) to support educators.

    To date no one, to my recollection, talks about teachers as a mentor…dare I say substitute parent, to our children in their formative years. Is there any person or influence more important to the next generation other than an interactive parent or parents? We need the best mentors we can afford…after all in many situations they are parent substitutes and role models for parents that have relinquished their role…and we all have seen this, don’t tell me you haven’t.

    We pay our day care providers say $125 or so a week just to keep our kids fed and safe…no education for the kids required other than hopefully social skills… Give them 20 kids to provide those services and we pay $90,000 for 180 days to do that. But somehow, once these children hit grade school…and we give a teacher 20 of the little darlings, they are worth less than half that amount for 36 weeks? Come on, the math doesn’t work for me. Not even to mention what it would cost parents to pay for someone we would pay to keep our teens out of trouble while we adults are at work…sorry..drifting here.

    So for those that think $48,000 per year on average for an educator to mentor, educate, safeguard, etc. our children to be the leaders that will eventually choose their parents nursing homes…is too much need to wake up.

  9. Madman 2016-01-12 22:01

    We are using 2013-14 numbers. So yes we would be raising salary to 37th during that budget, but this budget is going into affect for 2016-17.

    I know that the 2014-15 numbers weren’t available for the BRT but the data for the last ten years was. Why didn’t the task force and/or the governor figure out what is the average yearly increase in our neighboring states and factor that in to his proposal.

    At the end of the day even with this pay increase we are still going to be somewhere in the 40’s if its fully adopted.

    I guess we need to build a time machine…

  10. Jana 2016-01-12 22:46

    It’s both funny and sad that the GOP press release cut and paste blog is not even covering their governor’s speech. Maybe Tony told him not to open that conversation. Great work Pat!

    Maybe Troy will take that subject on over there.

  11. grudznick 2016-01-12 23:19

    To me, the Governor’s big speech is the big news. Not Obama talking about stuff that won’t happen or doesn’t affect South Dakota as directly. Certainly not nice Mr. Rounds complaining about Obama’s farewell speech. It should be about how Mr. H got Governor Daugaard to change course.

  12. leslie 2016-01-12 23:24

    Bohica-“it takes a village” by hillary. She gets it, for longer than most. Might be the best 2016 choice. Off-set daugaard’s last two years. He actually is planning on ACA repeal. Man do we live in a regressively administrated and populated state.

  13. Travis Wicks 2016-01-13 00:35

    That DD proposed the full recommended increase (actually even a little more than the recommended amount from the BRTF) to teacher pay AND for it to be implemented in full for the next school year without an incremental increase…. to quote Larry: “Gobsmacked I am.”

    I just have to wonder, what’s the catch? If it seems too good to be, it probably is, and this feels like that to me.

  14. leslie 2016-01-13 07:46

    Repeating imo the ihs condition will prevent expansion AND legisltors lobbied will cut teachers. And nothing changes despite EB5 administrative AND legislative cover-ups and cost-prohibitive judicial remedy. Its up to feds and its not really their job. Rick Weiland and Dems told you so. But look at the power if a “minority” executive. Daugaard enabled rounds and continues the cover-up…unfettered

  15. Paul Seamans 2016-01-13 09:28

    While I have no problem with paying an extra percent of sales tax Gov Daugaard is seeking a simple solution to raising money. Then again maybe not so simple. The retailers association and the cities will really fight this.

    I am all for raising teacher pay but I have doubts that dedicating the remainder of the $120 million to property tax relief is such a great idea. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a big fan of property taxes. However I feel that extra money would be better spent elsewhere, maybe to help fund post K-12 education, maybe to give relief to grocery shoppers.

  16. Paladn 2016-01-13 09:39

    I am all for the increase in the sales tax that would provide an increase in salary for our teachers. I wonder, however, if our legislators have the same desire. After all, is their job in Pierre to assist citizens of our state or to “hold their seats”?

  17. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-01-13 09:39

    Well, Jana, PP did take time between press releases from his sponsors to misbrand the Democrats’ alternative plan as spending twice as much, but he has offered no substantive analysis of the biggest general fund proposal from the Governor this year and the most transformative educational policy proposed since 1960s school consolidation.

    Travis, I share your caution. Where is the catch? We’ll find out when the actual legislation hits the hopper. Watch the incoming bills and potential amendments closely.

  18. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-01-13 09:40

    Paul, I agree with the Democrats’ alternative plan: if we’re going to raise a regressive tax, we should do something to directly ameliorate that regressivity. Cutting property taxes does not do that; cutting the food tax does.

  19. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-01-13 09:51

    Madman, you’re right: it would be great to have updated figures for salaries right now. But consider that errors may cancel out errors here. Let’s do math:

    The Governor is using the same figures I am, the NEA figures for AY 2014. We’re two school years past those average salaries. We’re calculating the cost of reaching $48,500 by assuming we’re raising it from AY 2014’s $40,023. $8,477 × 9,362 teachers ≈ $79.4 million.

    But by my November math, if SD teacher salaries went up proportionate to the per-student allocation increases in the last two school years, our average salary might actually be $42,195. So the Governor’s $79.4 million might actually raise our AY 2017 average salary to $50,672, which is better than the Dems’ proposed $50K target.

    But (just like Pierre, lots of buts), other states’ teacher salaries have surely gone up in the last couple years as well. We’re not factoring those increases into our rank calculations, just as we’re not factoring in SD increases in our fiscal calculations. In the absence of better data, I’m willing to conduct this debate on the AY 2014 data, under the assumption that not factoring there and not factoring here cancel each other out and allow the plan we pass now to land us in roughly the same position relative to our neighboring states that we’d get with updated stats.

  20. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-01-13 09:53

    I’ll tell you this: questions like Madman’s and the effort to come up with intelligent answers are a whole lot more fun than the petty namecalling and baseballing Pat gets in his comment section. A voter, a legislator, and a governor can actually learn something from you guys’ questions and comments!

  21. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-01-13 09:55

    Paladn, now is the time for voters (teachers! school board members! parents! kids! proud South Dakota public school graduates!) to contact their legislators and remind them what their job is. You can bet Pat’s corporate sponsors AFP will be coordinating phone and letter campaigns to persuade legislators the wrong way on this issue; those of us who give a darn about public education and stopping the teacher shortage need to respond in kind.

  22. O 2016-01-13 10:49

    Even if the Governor’s (or the BRTF’s for that matter) proposal is not everything we wanted under the tree, we are remiss if we do not recognize how remarkable it is that we just saw a Republican governor ask a Republican legislature for a tax increase to help remedy the state’s teacher crisis. Before we throw the hay-makers, let me say that this absolutely is a bold step from the perspective of how bad things are now. Do not trivialize how much movement this is – or we run the risk of trivializing how bad things are now. The Governor recognized the factual basis of the shortage caused by wages to allow a focus on solutions to be the new starting point. Bold must be a comparison of what has gone before.

    For all this to matter, for any this to affect the opportunity of our students, two-thirds of both legislative bodies must assent. The REAL question is how to make THAT happen. I for one do not need another proposal wilting unadopted, another victim of dogma or political gamesmanship.

  23. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-01-13 10:58

    Two-thirds. To make that hill less steep, the Governor will have to spend political capital. Will he spend it? How hard will he work to keep the teacher pay plan clean and whole? Should Democrats take a hard line and promise to support the Governor only if he sticks with the full plan?

    O, I take your point well. We must not minimize the depth of hole we’ve dug for ourselves. We must remind voters that yes, this plan is bold, not because it moves us to Shangri-La, but because it merely restores us to some semblance of functionality comparable to what other states have. We’re that bad off now that even bold action simply moves us to merely O.K.

    I don’t think I’m throwing haymakers. I’m just not ready to get out the bullhorn and cheer, at least not until I see a clean bill and the Governor’s blue badges working the room.

  24. Madman 2016-01-13 12:33

    Here are some numbers you are likely to see in the upcoming election talking about teacher salaries.

    I included Nebraska and Montana because they both have the average classroom size of around 13 students which is similar to South Dakota’s average.

    Enrolled Students
    36. South Dakota 13.8
    40. Montana 13.3
    41. Nebraska 13.0

    Average Daily Attendance
    34. South Dakota 13.3
    43. Nebraska 12.2
    50. Montana 9.8

    In 2003-04 to 2013-14 Percent Change in Current Dollars. This is looking at the math without factoring in the purchasing power, so a straight math problem.

    South Dakota is 33rd in raising salaries from 03-04 to 13-14 by 20.4%.
    Nebraska is 11th in raising salaries from 03-04 to 13-14 by 29.2%.
    Montana is 6th in raising salaries from 03-04 to 13-14 by 34.2%.

    This looks good on paper. In the last ten years it looks like salaries are going up for educators.

    In constant money (which means we adjust all dollars to 2015 levels) here is the actual numbers.

    South Dakota ranks 33rd with a decrease of 4.5% in salaries from 03-04 to 13-14.
    Nebraska ranks 11th with an increase of 2.5% in salaries from 03-04 to 13-14.
    Montana ranks 6th with an increase of 6.5% in salaries from 03-04 to 13-14.

    So over the course of the last ten years South Dakota’s teachers are actually making less. This is a ten year trend that the State Legislature has done nothing about.

    The current actual salaries in these states

    51. South Dakota 40,023
    32. Nebraska 49.539
    28. Montana 49,893

    These are in states that have nearly identical classroom sizes as South Dakota although a much smaller ADA. I guess South Dakota teachers and administrators are just able to get those youth to school. These are numbers you are going to hear thrown around in debates that South Dakota has actually increased the teacher salaries the last ten years when in reality they have dropped them.

  25. leslie 2016-01-13 21:25

    Good on the guv maybe BUT notice suddenly we have ethics investigations of 3 legislTors. Why now? Focus is on the guv Right now So Throw The Voters A Scrap Of Confusion. Dd Has Not Earned Trust.

  26. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-01-14 05:46

    Good numbers, Madman. Are those stats from NEA? Available online?

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