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.