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Sales Tax for Teacher Pay Has Failed; Base Next Policy Push on Progressive Tax Reform

South Dakota News Watch notes the failure of South Dakota’s plan to raise teacher pay that we’ve been talking about throughout this year. We busted our chops to increase our sales tax by a half-percentage point to raise teacher pay out of the national gutter (a compromise plan saved by the Legislative legerdemain of one man, Lee Schoenbeck, and don’t you forget it!). As SDNW’s Megan Raposa reports, from 2014 to 2020, we managed to raise teacher pay 22.4%, better than the national average teacher pay raise of 13.3%, but we never met our target salary, never rose above 46th in the nation, and now have slid back to 50th, behind everyone but Mississippi. And we have never reached teacher-pay parity with any neighboring state.

Instead of pushing to meet Governor Dennis Daugaard’s not-so-lofty goal of getting teacher pay up to 39th in the nation, our current Governor has shrugged off responsibility for making South Dakota’s teacher pay competitive and has focused instead on casting teachers as the enemy in her silly culture war.

We cannot base our K-12 system on the hope that rational actors in the labor marketplace will give up almost half of their income for the pleasure of the Hartford commute. We have to offer competitive teacher pay.

But we will have to pay for it. When we decided to raise teacher pay in 2016, we accepted an ugly, unimaginative plan that made our taxes even more regressive. I caught heck from sensible friends (plus some fleeting and specious criticism of regressive taxes from Republicans against raising teacher pay) for advocating higher sales tax, but I reasoned that if Republicans like Dennis Daugaard and Lee Schoenbeck were actually coming to the table to end a generation of neglect and raise teacher pay, we could at least meet the Republicans at the table and try raising teacher pay their way.

Well, we’ve tried it their way, and their way has failed. Piling tax on poor people’s peanut butter doesn’t produce the lasting investments we need in education. We need to reform our tax system to secure revenue for our public goods and services from the places where that wealth resides.

We need to scale back our regressive sales tax. We can start by repealing the sales tax on food.

We need a progressive income tax. Let us replace our regressive sales tax with a 0.6% on every South Dakotan’s first $100K of taxable income plus a 6% tax on any amount of taxable income above $100K.

We need to raise our trust supervision fee to tap the wealth that the world’s rich and powerful are hiding on Phillips Avenue.

We can raise teacher pay. We have the wealth to do it. That wealth is not in the checkout lane at Hy-Vee. When the Legislature returns to the issue of teacher pay and maintaining a world-class workforce in our classrooms (and, yes, given the ideological distraction of our Governor and most of her party, I will grant that the chances of such a return are slim), we must also fight for progressive tax reform.

23 Comments

  1. jad 2021-10-16

    People need to remember that the half cent increase did not all go to teacher salaries. The legislature took nearly half of the increase to fund other things. They probably needed money to pay for a fence, travel, buyouts, and law-suits.

  2. larry kurtz 2021-10-16

    Yes, in red states police unions get the cash and teachers’ unions get the shaft.

  3. Yvonne 2021-10-16

    Put out an initiative to recall the sales tax and instead let’s get a corporate tax in South Dakota and bring back the usury laws. And, while we’re at it, let’s defund and get rid of state agency committees-they are a waste of tax payers money which draw more than a quarter million tax funds. These funds would go to limit real estate taxes/mill levies from continuing to climb. Our internal roads within cities are a disgrace. Lowest pay wages in the nation, lowest in most everything except being in the top of the nation for corruption.
    So, then it’s no wonder all the oligarths find South Dakota the place to hide their blood thirsting greed of money.
    There’s no concern or desire for better education, higher wages, better way of life for South Dakotans cause South Dakota is the new Swiss Bank so to speak.

  4. Scott Ehrisman 2021-10-16

    I thought it was one of the stupidest tax votes the state legislature ever commenced. I remember shortly after the vote the Dems had a secret meeting in the backroom of the SF VFW to which I snuck into, Pam Nelson & Frank Kloucek proceeded to chew out the group for the idiocy of jumping on board with the Republicans to support this tax increase. After things continued to get heated, I was asked to leave. I have said for over 15 years as our Legislature continues to become more and more a one party system it has become more corrupt and the constituents have become more poor. It’s just not sustainable for another 50 years, something needs to change.

  5. Porter Lansing 2021-10-16

    Once again, the SD majority is a depleted gene pool of ignorance and anger towards anyone they perceive as “smarter than me”.

    These MAGA’s want teachers to suffer because somehow, in their depleted psyche, they feel better about themselves hurting teachers.

    Until this Machiavellian mindset is reversed, teachers will just be another group of “damn liberals” to be scorned, criticized, and denied.

  6. Donald Pay 2021-10-16

    It had to be a ten-year project with dedicated funding. It never got near to being that. I’ll give the Republicans credit for understanding there had to be a new revenue stream, and then enacting one, however inadequate. As usual, they selected a regressive tax, rather than risk going to an income tax or corporate tax. So, yeah, failure is probably right, though it did raise teacher pay more than would have happened without it.

  7. Yvonne 2021-10-16

    You are absolutely right Donald so to make it look good and hide the real intent they had to throw some crumbs to the few.
    Typical tyrannical government to maintain oppression over the mass

  8. Cathy Brechtelsbauer 2021-10-16

    World Food Day today, Oct.16 – a good day to bring up the matter of SD’s food tax. Readers may recall that the half cent for teachers was passed with a requirement that it be phased down, by tenths of percents, once revenue from taxing online sales is sufficient. It seems pretty obvious now that such tax revenue is sufficient to start this phase down.

    The phase-down requirement is still on the books no matter what happens to teacher pay. So it seems like there’s no advantage or disadvantage to teachers whether the tax cut will be to the general rate or amended to cut the food tax instead.

    Several of us did a man-on-the-street type survey of over 700 SD’ans (before Covid) that showed a 2-to-1 preference for whole percents off food rather than tenths of percents off the general sales tax rate. (The revenue required is similar, with slight gain for the state.)

    As Cory suggests, a tax reform is sorely needed to raise teacher pay. Meanwhile, we can ask legislators to switch the required sales tax cut from tenths of percents off the general rate to whole percents off groceries.

  9. John 2021-10-16

    Yvonne (and Cory) have great ideas: repeal and replace.
    Also consider an initiative tying teacher pay to the exact same pay for SD Highway Patrol. Tying teacher pay to the SDHP, which had similar morale and retention issues – goes miles prioritizing education and training vs the reactionary methods in the police, prosecutorial, prison, legislative industrial complex.

  10. Porter Lansing 2021-10-16

    Kristi Noem is the roadblock to teacher’s salary equity, with the rest of USA.
    She’s the worst kind of rural “hick”.
    The kind that grew up and lived her life surrounded by 99% white people, with stubborn German personalities.
    She knows nothing and cares even less about what BIPOC face in every day life.
    She flatly denies the existence of “white privilege” as do the SD majority.
    She’s tied “white privilege” denial to CRT dismissal and this is her “angle” to suck up to MAGA’s and face Ted Cruz and Jim Jordan in her primary.
    Teachers mean dung to Noem and listening to her speak, without a script, one soon knows why.
    She cheated in high school, got caught yet refused to apologize or admit her cheating.
    I know this from the biology teacher who taught and caught her.

  11. mike from iowa 2021-10-16

    Since it was based on future projections, it is no wonder it failed. Typical magat asshattery.

  12. ArloBlundt 2021-10-16

    Well…Scott’s input is to the point…funding teacher salary and state aid to schools generally with the sales tax on food and other goods has been a colossal failure…We do it because a tax on the poor and middle income is popular with Republicans. It hasn’t worked for 50 years and will continue to fail to provide any really meaningful funding. Sales tax on food is actually tax relief for the wealthy.The Democrats need to aggressively push for an alternative that taps into the storehouse of wealth maintained by the aristocracy in South Dakota…start the bloody battle and see it through.

  13. Mark Anderson 2021-10-16

    Well taxing the poor to pay for anything is bad policy. It’s hard to believe that trumpers would ever come up with anything that makes the world a better place. They just have to be voted out and in South Dakota that means by referendum. The state delegations are obviously not doing their job, everyone can see it. The rich should pay more is a good slogan. Steaks should be served rare is another.

  14. O 2021-10-16

    The ugly truth I have learned from years, and years, and years working on teacher pay is that very few cares about what teachers make in SD. Part of that comes from teachers making more than many others in communities (with no consideration for professional degrees or experience); part comes from teacher pay coming from tax revenue — nobody wants to pay more taxes; and part comes from a misunderstanding of what schools are asked to do now being VERY different from schools most taxpayers remember or were exposed to.

    The only issue that brings people to the table is when this issue is framed in terms of shortages. SD schools (as well as nationally) more and more cannot fully staff their schools. So far, the impact on students has been minimized; teachers take and extra class, some less popular electives are reduced, in fact, schools are doing WAY more for students than their funding should allow because teachers and other staff all take a little less so the students can have a little more. Shortages of teachers (and that shortage is across all levels and subject matters) hurt students’ ability to succeed.

    With No Child Left Behind there was a elevation of a national discussion of school accountability. A test and punish system was set up to keep making teachers targets of school “failures.” Student performance was never put in context, but instead sensationalized to demean education and teachers. Salaries were tied to increasing performance which seems to make intuitive sense, but neglects so many factors out of a thresher’s control. All this lead to a presumption against teacher pay increases.

    Add in an anti-education bias, and teachers take the brunt of every school ill/culture war. Society runs down schools for sex education, socialist Social Studies Standards, elitist assumptions of high-level coursework, embracing progressive ideas, addressing racism the “wrong” way (or at all) , . . Every ill becomes another erosion of support for teachers — the ones at the center of these controversies.

    Lawmakers all will say their ar pro-education; VERY few follow through with actions to support that — certainly few to support what teachers and educational support workers say is needed to support them and their schools. Pro-education more often circles back to accountability or social warfare.

    Not until SD truly supports education and the voice of educators will salaries ever be seen as an issue to work toward bettering.

    Finally there is the misconception that people pay taxes to pay for their children can go to school. Public education is not so transactional (which also opens the door to funding private schools with public money). We pay taxes so that our communities can provide free public education to all children.

  15. O 2021-10-16

    I would also add the SD leaders love the sales tax because businesses do the work of collect it for the state. Income taxes would require a whole new structure and bureaucracy to run.

  16. Jake 2021-10-16

    Cathy B- ‘asking’ this crop of GOP legislators for anything but grift, secrecy in government, and business paternalism is a non-starter.! They have no inclination to work for laboring, semi-professional, sales-tax paying voters. They exist for big busines, justice-dodging legislators like Cammack and his grifter son from Texas that grifted almost a million $$$ from SD Federal covid money. Kepp sending your extra beer money to “Stop the Steal’ campaign drives and watch your state continue to die.

  17. oldtimerDon 2021-10-16

    Just asking
    1. What are the Republicans doing to improve the quality of life for the low and middle income folks in SD?
    2. I ask the same of the Democrats.
    3. Why do low and middle income folks in SD vote for Republicans?

  18. Bonnie B Fairbank 2021-10-16

    Small rant here about food hyperinflation and 6.5% sales tax in Hot Springs, Fall River County, SD.

    Sonny’s Superfoods, 801 Jensen Highway, offers Tomboy hotdogs for $3.99 a pound, for $4.25 tax inclusive.

    Lynn’s DakotaMart,, 505 S. Sixth Street, offers Midwest Pride Weiners for $5.39 a pound, for $5.74 tax inclusive.

    These should be, realistically, $.89 to $1.09 per pound. They’re eff’n HOTDOG and WEINERS, folks.

  19. Porter Lansing 2021-10-16

    Bonnie … Knowing your money is tight but there’s enough nitrites and nitrates in hot dogs to give cancer to a real dog.

    I eat ‘em, too but I spend a buck apiece for quarter pound, all beef, Kosher dogs.

    Love ‘ya, girl and very glad you’re here. ❤️

  20. ArloBlundt 2021-10-16

    Well…we’ve got a situation here where four big monopolistic meat companies control 85% of the market and we pay for their “supply train” issues. They are monopolies and still aren’t efficient??? Best Polish I ever had was out of a butcher shop in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Now, in America, we have row upon row of bland, nitrate filled, grey when boiled hot dogs of various brands but all very similar at stupidly high prices and no butcher shops anywhere.This is freedom??

  21. Porter Lansing 2021-10-16

    No, man. That ain’t freedom.

    If everyone who makes under 175 % of the established poverty level (kids included) got $275 in food vouchers, every month, you’d see butcher shops again.
    Poor people aren’t dumb.
    Often they wiser than the middle class, who’re afraid to adapt.

  22. O 2021-10-16

    Porter, I think the middle class (maybe everyone) has come to expect convenience. Especially around here, families get to the middle class by having both parents working, so shopping that is open around the work schedule of those parents get the business — double so when EVERYTHING can be purchased in one spot.

    Now that I have a bit of money in my pocket, I really do try to think about what I am supporting with my purchasing; I can finally afford to make better choices for supporting local businesses — like local butchers.

  23. Bill 2021-10-17

    No raise! How do they expect educators to keep up with new books on critical race theory and subscriptions to liberal literature? Or, maybe that’s the point.

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