House Approves Final Education Reform Bill
Lawmakers in the House of Representatives passed the last major piece of this session’s education funding package. Tuesday afternoon they made changes and eventually approved a version of Senate Bill 131.
State Senators and Representatives support a bill that overhauls the way South Dakota funds public education. It restructures the funding formula and sets a target average teacher salary at $48,500.
State Representative Spence Hawley says Senate Bill 131 distributes dollars to schools based on a student to teacher ratio.
"The governor was gracious enough in Appropriations committee to take the below-200 [students] ratio, which was 12.5 in the bill originally, and reduced it in Appropriations down to a 12:1 ratio. That allowed additional 60 teachers to be fully funded at the schools under 200," Hawley says.
That change prompted one amendment on the House floor Tuesday to make sure the numbers work together. Lawmakers also added accountability language and inserted words to convey legislative intent to improve teacher pay.
The measure also caps schools’ reserve and capital outlay funds. Representative Jacqueline Sly says lawmakers strive for equitable education funding. "We start with a base, and then you look at how does that compare to all the districts within the state and is that money distributed equitably or not?" Sly says.
Sly says Senate Bill 131 equalizes some other revenues that used to benefit only certain school districts.
She says the other element of a public school funding formula deals with adequacy – whether the state puts enough money into education. She says lawmakers addressed that problem when they approved House Bill 1182. That bill increases the state sales tax one half of one percent to benefit teacher pay and property tax relief.
Both chambers approved the sales tax hike and Senate Bill 133, an additional bill providing teacher support, mentoring opportunities and e-Learning.
Update: On March 9, lawmakers in the State Senate voted 25 to 10 to accept the House's changes to SB 131. That means Governor Dennis Daugaard has the opportunity to sign all three elements of his education plan into law.