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 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.