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SDPB Radio Coverage of the South Dakota Legislature. See all coverage and find links to audio and video streams live from the Capitol at www.sdpb.org/statehouse

Local Control, Accountability At Issue In School Funding Talks

State lawmakers working on policies to increase teacher pay are weighing accountability and local control. The two concepts clash as legislators look at a plan to raise the sales tax for teacher salary increases – even among Republicans who control both chambers of South Dakota’s legislature.

A poll commissioned by Governor Dennis Daugaard indicates at least 71 percent of likely voters approve of his plan to raise the sales tax one half-cent to increase teacher salaries.

Republican State Representative Steve Westra says the money from tax dollars may need some strings attached.

"My biggest concern is to give an additional $60-some million to our schools without any guarantees that any of that money will reach the teachers I think has a lot of concern," Westra says. "I think the key thing to take away from that survey is the fact that we need to make sure that whatever we do here in the 91st legislative session for teachers, we need to make sure that 100 percent of that goes to teachers, because it isn’t going there right now."

Westra says lawmakers must put pressure on schools to use more money from the state on teacher pay.

This is where concepts of accountability and local control seem to collide. Lawmakers say they want to make sure money goes into teacher salaries, but they don’t want to strip school officials of the ability to make decisions that are best for their districts.

Republican State Senator Gary Cammack says accountability is essential but lawmakers shouldn’t issue mandates. 

"I think it would be a mistake for the legislature to try to assume the role as far as local control. I think local control is very important. I think that in this process we need to keep an eye on our goal and do everything that we can to give every incentive to those local school districts to carry out the intent that we have as a legislature when we get done with this process.

Cammack notes the session is young and the bills aren’t filed yet, so lawmakers have time to vet different ideas.

Governor Dennis Daugaard says he doesn’t intend to force schools to pay teachers a certain amount. He says accountability measures should provide transparency to taxpayers so they can discuss spending and staffing decisions with local district leaders.