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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

SD Senate Endorses New Edu. Funding Plan

Jenifer Jones

Lawmakers in the State Senate approve of Governor Dennis Daugaard’s proposal to change the way the state funds public education. Senate Bill 131 includes significant shifts in school funding. Most state senators endorse the plan, but some have reservations about the overhaul.

Senate Bill 131 has many moving pieces. It bases school funding on a student-to-teacher ratio that differs based on district size. The measure makes flexibility in capital outlay funds permanent, caps those accounts, and changes the pension levy. It also limits schools’ reserve funds and equalizes some other revenues. Plus it includes oversight and accountability sections.

State Senators this week focused debate on another major element of the plan: increasing teacher pay. The bill sets a target average teacher salary in South Dakota at $48,500.

State Senator Reid Holien says he wants to see an example that shows "throwing money" at a problem translates into improved student outcomes.

"Where is the threshold that, once we get to $48,500 as far as a target teacher salary, where is the threshold that automatically, at that level, all of the sudden we get applicants coming into the state or growing up from the state, that that is the magical level that we have to pass or that we have to set the bar to, that right reaching there then all of the sudden our problems are solved?" Holein asks.

Other opponents say they don’t want to raise teacher pay significantly if it doesn’t result in better test scores.

State Senator Deb Soholt co-chaired the Blue Ribbon Task Force on education funding. She says South Dakota is $8,000 to $10,000 behind surrounding states in teacher salaries. Soholt says increasing pay is a competitive issue, not an achievement question.

"When we think about directly tying any funding, we’re saying to our teachers, ‘We don’t believe that you’re doing the work right now, and we would then – in order to pay you more, to get you to fair market value – then we would hold you accountable that if you did not have these increases, then somehow you’re failing,'" Soholt says.

Senate Bill 131 survived the State Senate by a vote of 29 to six.

Earlier this week, lawmakers approved Senate Bill 133. It's a companion measure to the main education plan. House Bill 1182, a half-cent sales tax to fund teacher pay increases, narrowly survived the House chamber. That means all three bills that make up Governor Dennis Daugaard’s education proposal are still alive.

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).
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