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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

Republicans Divided Over Money For Teachers

Jenifer Jones

Members of South Dakota’s legislature say they have to do something for education funding this session, but they don’t agree on how to fund any changes.

House Bill 1182 is up for reconsideration in the House chamber Monday afternoon. It failed last week by one vote. Some lawmakers say increasing revenues is the answer to boost teacher pay. Others say the money already exists in state coffers. Instead of splitting between Republicans and Democrats, the divide is within the majority party.

Competing education funding plans are circulating in the Statehouse: the govenor’s plan, a Democrat-endorsed proposal, and an alternative by some House Republicans.

State Senator Deb Soholt says the Blue Ribbon Task Force determined the state needs tens of millions of dollars in new money to provide competitive public teacher salaries.

"Now we’re at a point where we have to really think, are we going to be bold and level-set education so that we can move forward in a concerted effort? So to find that ongoing money within our budget would require a 6.6 percent cut to all departments in order to come up with that money," Soholt says.

Soholt is a Republican. So is State Representative Don Haggar. He says state funds and school districts have enough money.

"I believe that there are ongoing dollars that are available in the existing budget without any sort of cut. I mean, she used this figure six percent, and I just don’t think that that’s the case, at least not the way we would approach it," Haggar says.

The math is simple, according to State Senator Corey Brown. He says the state’s budget is $1.4 billion. Education uses $400 million. That leaves $1 billion for every other department.

"And if your target is right around $67 million, that’s 6.6/6.7 percent cuts to the rest of state government, so that’s why it’s difficult when we say you’re going to find the dollars within the existing budget," Brown says. "There’s only so far you can do that without having a pretty dramatic impact."

Another state lawmaker, Representative Brian Gosch, says the Blue Ribbon Task Force offered multiple options to increase teacher pay. He says one of those opens up more money schools already have for use on salaries and compensation, so that wouldn’t require a tax increase.

Kealey Bultena grew up in South Dakota, where her grandparents took advantage of the state’s agriculture at nap time, tricking her into car rides to “go see cows.” Rarely did she stay awake long enough to see the livestock, but now she writes stories about the animals – and the legislature and education and much more. Kealey worked in television for four years while attending the University of South Dakota. She started interning with South Dakota Public Broadcasting in September 2010 and accepted a position with television in 2011. Now Kealey is the radio news producer stationed in Sioux Falls. As a multi-media journalist, Kealey prides herself on the diversity of the stories she tells and the impact her work has on people across the state. Kealey is always searching for new ideas. Let her know of a great story! Find her on Facebook and twitter (@KealeySDPB).