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GOP Blog Spins Old Data to Justify Republican Tax Hike for Teacher Pay

The illiterate SDGOP spin blog is back to appealing to the Cost of Living Fairy to justify South Dakota’s low teacher pay.

In January 2016, when Governor Dennis Daugaard came out in support of a half-penny sales tax to raise South Dakota teacher pay from last in the nation to something closer to competitive with surrounding states, he dismissed cost of living as an excuse for our perennially low pay:

The bad news is: the gap is getting worse. We compete with our surrounding states for teachers, and we are falling farther behind them. Ten years ago South Dakota’s average teacher salary was about $2000 a year behind North Dakota. We were 51st in teacher pay and they were 49th. Montana was 47th and Nebraska was 42nd.

Today we are still closest to North Dakota among our surrounding states, but the gap is not $2000. It is $8000. We still rank 51st. North Dakota has moved to 36th. Montana to 28th. Nebraska 32nd.

And even when you adjust for cost of living, South Dakota falls behind our surrounding states. We are closest to North Dakota, but nearly $6000 behind. After adjusting for cost of living, South Dakota is nearly $10,000 behind Minnesota.

If South Dakota wants to maintain high student achievement, we need a new generation of high quality teachers. And we’re not going to get them unless we become more competitive with surrounding states. And when you delve into the numbers you reach the conclusion that the only way to become more competitive is to increase our state’s average teacher salary… [Gov. Dennis Daugaard, State of the State Address, Pierre, SD, 2016.01.12].

Republican propaganda blog Dakota War College looks at a new USA Today analysis that finds South Dakota had the third-lowest teacher pay in May 2016 but the eleventh best “affordability” and makes silly conclusions:

USA Today/Argus Leader just released an article showing South Dakota smack in the middle of the pack of a comparison taking affordability to live alongside with teacher pay….

It appears that South Dakota’s recent bump in teacher pay as led by Republicans has done some good [Pat Powers, “South Dakota in Middle of Pack for Adjusted Teacher Pay,” Dakota War College, 2017.08.02].

Powers errs on multiple points:

  1. The salary data predates Governor Daugaard’s sales tax hike. USA Today cites Bureau of Labor Statistics data from May 2016. The sales tax hike took effect in June 2016.
  2. The BLS stats count 13,220 teachers in South Dakota. The South Dakota Department of Education counted 9,350 total classroom FTEs in the 2015–2016 school year. The Governor’s salary plan assumed about 9,000 teachers. The USA Today/BLS figures thus do not reflect the pre-plan pay of the employees targeted by the plan.
  3. USA Today reports and Powers calculates no “adjusted teacher pay.” It cites the above pay figures, then mentions a U.S. News and World Report “Affordability” ranking. That ranking does not offer percentages that we could use to accurately factor South Dakota’s raw-dollar pay into relative purchasing power compared to other states. So, for example, South Dakota is 11th for “Affordability” and Minnesota is 19th, but those numbers don’t tell us whether the cost-of-living difference between South Dakota and Minnesota is 2, 8, or 20 percentage points. Neither USA Today nor Dakota War College offer the serious calculations of relative purchasing power that I’ve performed time and time again to show that South Dakota needs to pay its teachers, construction workers, and pretty much everyone else more to compete with the standard of living workers enjoy in our neighboring states.
  4. The USNWR “Affordability” ranking is the smallest component of a more encompassing “Opportunity” ranking. Minnesota ranks 2nd. South Dakota ranks 25th. Every neighboring state but Montana (30th) outranks us on “Opportunity.”

In 2016, Governor Daugaard dismissed cost of living as an excuse for low teacher pay and adopted regional competitiveness as our teacher pay benchmark. We have no data yet showing that we have reached that benchmark or that anyone deserves a Pat on the back.


  1. Porter Lansing 2017-08-03

    This post does put Pat on his back. Wishin’ and a hopin’ that someday he’ll have half the analytical ability of Mr. Heidelberger. :0)

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