Press "Enter" to skip to content

SD Teacher Pay Falls Back to 50th in the Nation; Teacher, SDEA Shrug

In the lead-up to South Dakota’s last great push to raise teacher pay, Governor Dennis Daugaard’s task force settled on the Governor’s suggested, underwhelming, but doable goal of raising South Dakota’s teacher pay from 51st to 39th in the nation. But as we’ve seen since the enactment of our half-penny sales tax for teacher pay, that 2016 tax hike only backfilled five years of pay progress lost due to Daugaard’s draconian 2011 disinvestment in public goods. Last year, 89% of school districts failed to meet the statutory target salary for teachers.

The first year of extra funding bumped South Dakota’s teacher pay ranking up to 48th. But our leaders let that meager gain founder. Now, far from 39th, South Dakota ranks 50th for teacher pay, ahead of only Mississippi.

Teachers are torqued, right? Teachers are expressing outrage that South Dakota’s leaders have failed to live up to the promises they made that secured from liberals like me acceptance of an increase to our regressive sales tax burden for the sake of investing in our teachers, right?

Nah. The one classroom teacher the paper quotes on this major policy failure just shrugs and says teachers are only part-time professionals should work for love and summers off, not money:

“I’m sure you’ve heard this time and time again, but this is not a career you fo into for the money,” said Madeline Voegeli, a social studies teacher at Lennox High School. “If we were in this for the money, I don’t think it is the career path we would have chosen.”

Voegeli said she doesn’t feel she’s unfairly compensated, and she isn’t struggling financially. She knew her salary would be what it is when she was in college, and that when you’re a teacher, “you make it work.”

When she hears South Dakota is last in the nation for average teacher salaries, it doesn’t make her think that “yes, it’s time to move to Montana or Wyoming,” Voegeli said.

“I’ve never once thought about leaving the state.”

Teaching is part of her family story and her passion, as both [sic] her grandfather, grandmother, and mother have all been teachers.

“I knew I wanted a family, and for having a family, it was a great career ,” she said. “I was guaranteed nights with my kids, and my summers making memories,” with my family [Morgan Matzen, “SD Ranks Last Again for Average Teacher Pay,” paywalled, printed in Aberdeen American News, 2021.05.17]

I am glad this social studies teacher has never thought about leaving the state. But a lot of teachers do think about leaving, and when they see that they can get $10,000 more purchasing power in Minnesota for the same work and the same perks (nights and summers completely free? that’s not how I remember it, but o.k., if that’s true here in South Dakota, it must be true in Minnesota and elsewhere), a lot of them act on that thinking and take their passion elsewhere, leaving South Dakota poorer.

But even the president of the South Dakota teachers union can’t get off the mat and call out the Governor’s failure to live up to her party’s promises. Instead, he leads by agreeing with the Governor’s Office that teacher pay is in good shape:

South Dakota Education Association (SDEA) president Loren Paul said he agrees with [the Governor’s spokesboy Ian] Fury—this year, the state gave more than was needed, which “caught us up, in the end.”

“If we continue to hold everybody accountable for the promises made to the (task force), I think we will continue to see our salaries increase,” Paul said [Matzen, 2021.05.17].

Paul helps us miss the big picture the Governor’s Office is determined to hide: teachers have had salary increases all along, but South Dakota’s increases have failed to keep up with the market rate for professional educators in other states. Our great political exertions in 2016 didn’t remedy the low relative wage that hamstrings our ability to recruit and retain top teaching talent.

You can always find a good teacher who shrugs off financial concerns and does the job for love. But noble stories of individual sacrifice don’t make up for the statistical tyranny of the marketplace: a few people’s love won’t compensate for the majority of workers who can’t afford to sacrifice a lifetime of earning power and who will seek out work that optimally rewards their talent and ambition.

Reaching 39th for teacher pay would still have left us last in the region and at a disadvantage in the teaching labor marketplace. But if we stay 50th in the nation for teacher pay, and we will never rise to 1st in the nation for teacher quality, or even teacher quantity. And our teachers—or at least the one teacher and the one teacher union leader quoted in today’s depressing news—don’t sound too fired up about changing that failure.


  1. Mark Anderson 2021-05-17

    Again, South Dakota is the Mississippi of the North, what else is news? As long as the state is dominated by Republicans, what else can you expect? They are now simply the party of the lying losing trump. Pretty soon they will be teaching the proper gander that kristi, hardly a genius, wants. It will simply become worse and worse. If you can’t vote out people who disagree with the majority in their own state for wanting Medicaid, your a state of masochists.

  2. Arlo Blundt 2021-05-17

    Well…when you talk about teachers, you’re talking about the broadest cross section of South Dakotans. Individually they probably represent every possible political and social point of view. How they are compensated is a reflection of how the much the people of South Dakota value the education of their children. South Dakota’s state government’s support of higher teacher’s salaries is neither enduring or resolute. It’s a political poker chip.

  3. DaveFN 2021-05-18

    Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

    South Dakota writ large, with its teachers and their own union rep at fault. We’ve met the enemy and they is us.

  4. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-05-18

    SDEA carefully flexed some muscle in 2016 to win the compromise on funding for teacher pay. SDEA should be vocal in fighting the failure of that compromise. Playing along with the ruling regime only reinforces the regime’s ability to let this deal fail and face no accountability for this failure.

  5. grudznick 2021-05-18

    Raising taxes on all for only a few stymied the whining for only a short time. The next round of whining will no doubt result in a backlash.

    Work harder. Raise your position in the Seven Indisputable Levels of Teachers. That will get you a raise.

  6. Kayla Rose 2021-05-18

    This is what happens when the president of a teacher’s association isn’t a teacher. I also think people need to realize the discrepancies across the state. As a teacher, I moved from Yankton to Sioux Falls and took an almost $10K pay cut

  7. John 2021-05-18

    South Dakota invests in the prosecutorial, prison industrial complex (ehm, except when it comes to AG himself).
    Cory’s recent and the WalletHub analysis show:

    If South Dakota had a legislature that cared for its people, their future, it would tie teacher rates to those for the legislature and law enforcement (to also account for the “per diem loophole”). Then South Dakota may begin to right-size its priorities.

  8. O 2021-05-18

    grudznick, you ignorant blowhard. Please tell all the teachers here where they can “Work harder. Raise your position in the Seven Indisputable Levels of Teachers. That will get you a raise.” outside the fantasy world you have concocted in your polluted mind.

    The hard work of our teachers and the excellence of their craft has been divorced from ANY discussion of salary in this state — mostly because of anti-tax (anti-social) demagogues like yourself. Is it pure fear that the government trough won’t continue to have enough to go around for you?

  9. David Newquist 2021-05-18

    The competitive states and school districts have strong unions which counterbalance those school boards and educational bureaucracies that are more dedicated to partisan politics than to education. While salaries are an important part of their agenda, professional teacher qualifications and educational practices are of equal emphasis. SDEA once was diligent in helping to maintain professional standards. But over the years, it has lost status as a professional organization and an advocate for fair compensation and administrative competence. An indication of its standing is the results of a recent election for its directors and oversight personnel. Our of 21 positions open, 10 had no candidates,

  10. O 2021-05-18

    David, your point about open positions is valid, but COVID travel restrictions had a large role in magnifying that reluctance far above the norm for running this election cycle.

  11. Jenny 2021-05-18

    Well for a couple years anyway you weren’t dead last, SD, but you just had to move backwards again didn’t you . Darn, so much for that. Don’t expect Noem to fight for better wages.

  12. SciTeacher 2021-05-18

    As a teacher, I can say that my colleague from Lennox doesn’t represent the viewpoints of all of us. There is a big difference in where you teach too. Making 35-40k in a place like Lennox is probably not the worst when you compare salary to cost of living.

    Now I teach in Rapid, and have seen only $1000 increase in my annual salary over the last four years. Now it hasn’t been for lack of effort on the part of RCEA(local union). The issue here is that it really doesn’t matter WHAT our unions do because the law is stacked against teachers.

    Now, I will say… I didn’t get into teaching for the money, that’s a sentiment most teachers will share. But it would be nice to afford a car younger than my 7th graders

Comments are closed.