Pierre - It is Teacher Appreciation Week, and the South Dakota Education Association (SDEA) is encouraging everyone to take a moment to thank South Dakota’s educators and ask state leaders to keep the commitment to ensure teachers’ salaries remain competitive in the region. According to the National Education Association’s (NEA) latest issue of the 2021 Rankings and Estimates, South Dakota has fallen back to 50th in the nation. SDEA says now is time to act so teacher pay does not fall back to the bottom.
SDEA President Loren Paul says in 2016 state leaders made huge strides in improving teacher pay for South Dakota’s teachers, but the recent data from the NEA is a good reminder that policymakers should not take their eye off the ball in the effort to keep qualified teachers in classrooms. “This week we are celebrating the caring and committed teachers of South Dakota. They are the most dedicated professionals you will find,” said Paul. “The best way we can honor them is to renew the commitments made in 2016, which was to move pay from the bottom and make sure it doesn’t fall back there again.”
South Dakota’s rank had risen to 47th in pay for the for the 2017-2018 school year after spending decades at the bottom of the list. That changed when the 2016 legislature embraced the recommendations of the Blue-Ribbon Task Force, which included an increase to the state sales tax and a new funding formula that targeted the new dollars to teacher pay. The legislative package also included important accountability measures to ensure the new tax dollars were used for their intended purpose. However, some of those provisions will go away next year. Paul says those measures are necessary to ensure the additional tax dollars continue to keep teacher salaries competitive.
“The additional revenue from the half-penny did go a long way in boosting teacher pay, and the accountability measures were put in place to ensure taxpayers that the new money would make its way to teachers’ pockets,” said Paul. “We think these accountability measures are key to keeping those dollars targeted to salaries, and it is time to extend those provisions.”
Not all the news from the Rankings and Estimates is bad, South Dakota is outpacing its neighbors in annual salary increases. Paul attributes that to the accountability measures. “The good news is we are becoming more competitive with the states around us. The work of the Blue-Ribbon Task Force got us in the game, and our state leaders deserve credit for that. However, if we want to keep up, South Dakota must continue to target the revenue from the additional half-penny to teacher pay,” said Paul. “Teachers are simply asking the state to keep the promises made by the Blue-Ribbon Task Force. South Dakota must continue to hold everyone accountable for how those additional dollars are being spent. If we do that, we should continue to see our salaries increase.”