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Educators Picked the Right Battle Fighting Harder for Teacher-Pay Revenue Than Formula Revisions

Ken Santema says the teachers union and other education advocates should have focused as much attention on Senate Bill 131, the new K-12 funding formula, as they did on House Bill 1182, the sales tax increase that funds the higher teacher salaries and other provisions of that funding formula:

…Included in this post is a picture of the House gallery as HB 1182 was being debated. The gallery was full of teachers and administrators. A LOT of attention on was placed on this bill, and away from SB 131. HB 1182 had little or nothing to do with whether teachers got a pay raise. It was one of almost a half dozen proposals to fund a pay raise, but it did nothing to actually control that pay raise. Teachers should have been more interested in SB 131 than worrying about which revenue increase to back.

SB 131 is the bill where attention should have been placed. Yet the galleries were basically empty in each chamber as SB 131 was debated. This bill actually sets the policy as to how the new revenues will be handled to increase teacher pay. At the most basic level this is being done by allocating money to schools on a per teacher basis instead of a per student basis. That means schools will have to maintain certain ratios to actually give the intended pay raises to teachers… [Ken Santema, “The Sly Amendment and Small School Consolidation,” SoDakLiberty, 2016.03.30].

I have to disagree with Santema’s contention that the sales tax increase was mostly irrelevant to receiving a pay raise. HB 1182 was a necessary though not sufficient condition for raising teacher pay. And no one in that gallery was worrying about which revenue increase to back; it was apparently determined before the Governor’s State of the State Address on opening day of Session that House Bill 1182’s half-penny sales tax was the only revenue increase that stood hot soup’s chance on Lake Herman of passing. SDEA, SASD, ASBSD, and everybody else packing the gallery and the lobby and the inboxes knew from decades of experience that the hard fight wouldn’t be for the formula—you can get almost any legislator to say, “Yes, we should pay teachers more”—but would be for the tax increase to fund that formula. They were right: the education lobby had to work harder on HB 1182 to secure fewer votes than SB 131 got. HB 1182 required two-thirds votes, while SB 131 only required majority votes. The education lobby’s efforts reflected a harder climb up a higher hill.

I do agree with Santema that SB 131 throttles small-school funding to press them toward consolidation. That’s a feature, not a bug. It was built into the formula from the beginning. The consolidation pressure took different forms: the House reduced the pressure by lowering the funded teacher-student ratios for smaller schools, then increased it by removing the two-year-average enrollment cushion. I don’t like that pressure—if we need to consolidate schools, then legislators should be honest and declare what size schools and, by unavoidable extension, what size communities they deem unviable. I’d have preferred we pass the Frerichs Amendment to restore new funding promised to nearly half of our school districts. But from the start of Session, the education lobby knew the formula would contain some consolidation pressure. They counted the dollars and the votes, they picked their battle, and they passed what they could pass.

The sales tax increase made the formula revision possible. Passing the funding formula would not have made the sales tax increase possible. The funding formula falls short of the promised salary increase, but we wouldn’t even be talking about falling short if the education lobby hadn’t packed the gallery when they did.

To finish the job, the education lobby now needs to catch its breath and tackle two new hills. First, teachers, administrators, and school board members need to get out the vote for the right legislators this fall. Second, they need to ride those legislators all next session to protect the sales tax commitment to education, fix the problems in the funding formula, and move us closer to regionally competitive teacher pay.


  1. Darin Larson 2016-04-04 07:53

    Santema’s comments also ignore that the governor said all three bills were a package deal. If 1182 did not pass, the other two bills would not have gone anywhere. The governor said as much.

    Santema’s quote that “HB 1182 had little or nothing to do with whether teachers got a pay raise” is totally false if we are assuming that raise meant a meaningful raise and not the .3 percent in the budget. Has Santema signed on to the fiction that we were going to find this money “in the seat cushions at the capitol?”

    Santema’s article unfortunately is revisionist history. To what end, I’m not sure.

  2. Darin Larson 2016-04-04 08:07

    Santema also seems to ignore the fact that the old formula paid revenue on a per student basis which disfavors small schools with small student/teacher ratios just like the new formula. These schools were in trouble before SB 131 and they are still in trouble.

    I guess Santema or others could make the argument that SB 131 increases the competitive gap for these small inefficiently sized schools. Since SB 131 will raise funding at most other schools significantly, it puts the small inefficiently sized schools at even more of a competitive disadvantage.

    The choices to avoid this situation are either don’t give all of the schools a significant funding raise, which is untenable. Or pay these small schools some kind of sparsity funding increase. But do we want to subsidize inefficiency? How much inefficiency are we prepared to support?

    The bottom line is this new funding formula does not rescue the small inefficiently sized schools. But they were going to struggle without the law as well.

  3. Charlene Lund 2016-04-04 09:16

    Another very likely challenge to public education and its funding in the 2017 Legislature will come from the far right. I suspect there are plans in the works right now to bring new hateful legislation that will allow discriminatory practices to students and adults, gay and transgender, creationism school curriculum, increased support for private schools and attacks on public school funding. I hope the 2017 legislature is ready for this effort to undermine our citizens and way of life. Keep an eye on Brian Gosch and the new non profit that will provide insurance funds to private school students. I suspect hard hitting and very nasty legislation from the group he organizes.

  4. Ken Santema 2016-04-04 09:20

    I’m about to hit the road again so I don’t have time to fully respond. But I have time to make a few quick points.

    First, I do believe a revenue increase of some type would have passed this year no matter what. Whether that be 1182 or an other proposal was irrelevant. Even the legislators against 1182 agreed something was going to be done this year to bring more money to teachers. How the new money is going to be handled is more important in my opinion.

    Second. Yes, even the old formula was headed towards consolidation. But the new formula speeds that up dramatically; and the Sly amendment removes the safety brakes. I agree with consolidation. I just think it should have been done with more honesty.

    Third, seeing things from a different point of view is not revisionist.

  5. Darin Larson 2016-04-04 10:31

    Mr. Santema, with all due respect, you are swallowing the line that “something” was going to be done this year to bring more money to teachers. That is just like the contention by everyone in Pierre that they support education and education funding. We didn’t get to be 51st in the nation in teacher pay because everyone in Pierre supports proper education funding.

    When you say “something” was going to be done. Where were the competing bills? Where were the competing ideas? It was all rhetoric, Mr. Santema. In the words of Cuba Gooding, Jr., “show me the money!”

    It is like the governor’s plan was competing against utopia. Nobody had a concrete alternative plan so they were free to speculate about how great the alternatives were. It is hard to criticize plans that don’t exist. (See Republicans plan for healthcare beyond repealing Obamacare.)

    And why should I believe you that “something” was going to be done when you don’t believe the legislators on the respective appropriations committees that there was no pot of free money sitting around to fund education properly.

    We have been underfunding education in SD for a generation so pardon my skepticism that “something” was going to be done for education if 1182 did not pass. At some point, actions speak louder than words.

  6. Robbie 2016-04-04 12:29

    Unfortunately, educators put their trust in the organizations and legislatures that sugar-coated the bills to get them passed. Instead of belittling and threatening legislatures, people should’ve listened to those legislatures who stood their ground and gave us numerous warnings in regards to the actual entirety of these bills. This people should be thanked for their hard work attempting to get everyone to see what was happening. Plenty of red flags were out there, but nobody wanted to hear it out!

  7. Darin Larson 2016-04-04 12:45

    Robbie, with friends like the legislators you mention, teachers don’t need enemies.

    What “warnings” and “red flags” are you talking about? Why are you so cryptic?

    What should have been done with regard to education funding?

    What kind of track record for funding education do the legislators that you mention have?

  8. Mark Winegar 2016-04-04 17:01

    It clear to me that we still won’t be paying teachers enough to be competitive and I plan to fight for more competitive salaries.

  9. owen reitzel 2016-04-04 18:33

    I’d have to disagree with you on HB1182. It sure wan’t a perfect bill but it was relevant.
    I know that the Republicans opponents said that they they wanted to raise teacher but I really don’t believe them. At least anything long term.
    Some of them like my Senator Bill Van Gerpen wanted to find money in the existing budget. I think he did but it wasn’t a long term solution. Sadly there are people running for the legislature that want to do the same thing as Van Gerpen and are against any tax increase and basically are against education. You hear things like “we don’t have a revenue problem we have a spending problem.” No, we have a revenue problem.
    I do agree with you Ken on the Sly amendment. I believe as well that it was meant to speed up consolidation. I’d like some of these republicans to go into the towns that will lose their schools and explain their reasoning. Maybe those that are running for the legislature should come out and say if they are for this or not and if they are for the Sly amendment then explain why?

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-04-04 19:38

    I don’t think a revenue increase was going to pass no matter what. Apparently no other new-revenue bill stood a chance worth anyone standing up to fight hard. The only alternatives floated by opponents of HB 1182 were raids on other budget lines, none of which appeared able to rouse majority support. Maybe support for the existing-revenue plans would have materialized if HB 1182 had been killed… but that’s a big maybe, with no clear evidence. I’m more inclined to believe that if an existing-revenue solution had existed, the Governor himself would have proposed it and spared his caucus the risk of voting for another tax increase.

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-04-04 19:41

    Robbie, I join Darin in disputing your thesis. Every one of those legislators who voted against HB 1182 should be driven out in this year’s election. They weren’t working to warn us or to come up with a superior plan; they were grabbing for whatever conditional position they could find (the wingnuts suddenly care about the burden of regressive taxes on the poor? yeah, sure!) to sugarcoat their own desire not to raise taxes to give more money to public education. SB 159, the stealth vouchers for Phyllis Heineman’s husband, were their weak anti-public-education consolation prize.

  12. grudznick 2016-04-04 20:08

    Mr. H’s blogging at 19:38 is about the smartest blogging he has probably ever done, and I commend him for his critical thinking in the matter. This is the thinking that, should Mr. H get into the legislatures, might separate him from the more mundane and ignorant legislatures like the people who voted NAY on that bill. Mr. Gerpen and Mr. Russel were among the insanest of them all from the things I listened to.

  13. grudznick 2016-04-04 20:13

    Mr. Santema, you are naive if you think that people like that pretty young Ms. May would have gone for other options. She was just covering her NAY vote with an excuse. She can’t even balance her own check book.

  14. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-04-04 21:32

    Whenever Grudz says something nice about my writing, I feel the need to review what I said to make sure I didn’t mess up.

  15. grudznick 2016-04-04 21:44

    No mess up there, Mr. H. No French math or nothing like that at all. Just a good blogging, sir, with some solid reasoning behind it. I shall have nightmares tonight about you coming to your senses.

  16. Marilee 2016-04-08 15:52

    I work in a small efficient school. We have lost kids in our district to the nearby NE school because those families didn’t want their kids to have to travel 40+ miles to the school we thought we would have to consolidate with. We are highly impacted with a reservation and Lake Francis Case in our district that we receive no tax monies from. The federal government does not inform us of how much OR even when the money will arrive. Try to build a budget on those terms! I to not force consolidation on small schools if they are solvent and have the public’s support. Open enrollment seems to only have helped the sports teams.

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