Governor Signs Education Funding Bills
A sales tax hike to benefit education and property tax relief is becoming law along with a major shift in the way South Dakota funds public schools. The changes are part of a three-piece legislative package that overhauls education funding.
Governor Dennis Daugaard has signed sweeping education funding changes into law. He and Republican State Senator Deb Soholt say it’s critical that the new laws increase the sales tax for a boost in teacher pay.
"Trying to raise the sales tax by a half a penny is a very heavy lift – and it should be, because we have to assure that we can’t find that ongoing money in another way. So it is really historic that we have made a commitment for ongoing funding for education, so that every year we’re not trying to do one-time money to keep our schools functioning well," Soholt says. "This is really saying to our teachers, ‘You matter in our classrooms, and we are now rolling up our sleeves and doing our commitment to our state, and we’re all participating."
The law establishes a statewide average teacher salary goal of $48,500.
Among other changes, it switches the way South Dakota distributes money to public schools from a dollar amount per student to funding based on a student-to-teacher ratio.
Democrats say they can work with the new formula as long as leaders are willing to fix problems that arise. State Senator Billie Sutton says that may include altering the ratio the plan sets.
This is really saying to our teachers, 'You matter in our classrooms.' -Senator Deb Soholt
"It wasn’t because there was scientific studies that showed that that was the best student/teacher ratio for the outcomes of our kids. It was because that worked with the dollars that needed to be raised," Sutton says. "That’s a discussion that we’re going to have to have is, ‘What is the right classroom size, and then in turn what is the right student-to-teacher ratio to get best outcome for kids in South Dakota?’"
Sutton says he’s concerned the legislation treats small districts and impact-aid schools poorly. He says other lawmakers are committed to reviewing the impacts of the new funding formula so they can make necessary changes.
Governor Dennis Daugaard says he expects some modifications to the new funding formula next session, because leaders are altering so many factors at the same time.
Daugaard says the education reforms passed this legislative session prove that a methodical approach helps solve significant problems. The governor says people were skeptical of the Blue Ribbon Task Force examining school funding. He says the group worked for eight months to determine core challenges and comprehensive solutions.
"So if we want the school districts to swallow some of this medicine that is found in the teacher-to-student ratios and the constraints on capital outlay and the constraints on reserves and, all the things, the wrapping of the other funds into the formula, then we need to have them see an incentive through new revenue," Daugaard says.
The governor says South Dakotans need time to figure out how different elements of the package work together and affect districts.
The half-penny sales tax increase also dedicates millions of dollars to property tax relief.