Education Week reports South Dakota lawmakers recently approved a “half-penny sales-tax increase…designed to boost teacher salaries,” the “centerpiece of a bipartisan effort to raise the average teacher salary in the state to $48,500.” The state’s “average teacher salary in 2013-14 was just over $40,000, the lowest of all 50 states and the District of Columbia, according to National Education Association tabulations.” South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, “who has championed the measure,” created a Blue Ribbon Task Force in 2015 to address education spending. The task force in November “recommended establishing a new dedicated funding source for teacher pay and reorienting its school-financing formula.” Since then, “Two companion bills that complete the education overhaul have cleared the state Senate and are awaiting action in the House of Representatives.”
In an op-ed for the Sioux Falls (SD) Argus Leader Gov. Daugaard writes that the plan will allow the state “to recruit the next generation of great teachers” He says South Dakota will become “competitive with surrounding states” and its teachers “will no longer be paid 51st in the nation.” Gov. Daugaard adds that the recently-passed House Bill 1182 “directs approximately $70 million to significant pay increases for our public school teachers, as well as instructors at the state’s technical institutes,” while two other bills – Senate Bill 131 and Senate Bill 13 – reform the state’s school funding formula and encourage efficiency by creating “new opportunities for schools to share resources.”
According to Education Week, South Dakota’s sales tax increase would be coupled with a major change to the state’s school-funding formula. Rather than being based on per-pupil allocations, districts would receive money based on a target student-teacher ratio. For example, a district with 700 students would receive enough cash to cover a 15-to-1 student-teacher ratio, or about 47 teachers paid at $48,500, plus an additional premium to cover benefits and overhead. One goal of the switch is to make districts more accountable for staffing decisions.
(Editor’s Note: Teacher compensation varies from state to state and district to district. It’s also not easily comparable when health benefits, retirement benefits and the cost of living are taken into consideration.)