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South Dakota teacher salaries increase, but the state once again ranks 50th in the nation


Back in 2015 things looked grim in terms of teacher salary. Wade Pogany, president of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota, said the state was last in the nation.

“We saw teacher shortages, pretty significant teacher shortages,” he said. “And the legislature, Gov. Daugaard, knew that something needed to be done. We were really in a crisis.”

To address this crisis Gov. Dennis Daugaard and the legislature established the Blue Ribbon Task Force that made recommendations to change the school funding system.

Tiffany Sanderson, South Dakota’s education secretary, said the new funding formula set targets for student-teacher ratios and teacher salaries.

Note: The above table is taken from the 2021 Teacher Compensation Review Board Report

“Paired up with that was new funding for teacher salaries, half cent increase to our sales tax across the state to support that, that shift in the funding formula and the priority on teacher pay,” Sanderson said

The half-cent sales tax increase created $67 million in new ongoing funding for South Dakota schools. The Blue Ribbon task force’s goal was $75 million in new ongoing funding for teacher salaries.

The 2016 legislature also required that school districts spend 80% of their budgets on teacher salary and benefits. That one-time increase boosted starting pay by roughly 15% to about $37,000 a year. The National Education Association ranks South Dakota at 26th in the nation for average starting salary.

Note: Figure taken from 2021 Teacher Compensation Review Board Report.

Sanderson said since then, average teacher pay has gone up.

“The average teacher salary’s risen actually 22% over the last six years.”

For the 2013-14 school year average teacher pay was $40,023. In 2019-20 average teacher pay was $48,984. But that increase over six years boosted teacher pay by roughly the annual rate of inflation.

South Dakota’s national ranking rose to 47th just a few years ago. But the state’s teacher pay has now fallen back to one of the lowest in the nation.

The Blue Ribbon task force also created a Teacher Compensation Review Board. It meets every three years to monitor teacher pay in the state. The board met earlier this fall and new data shows South Dakota’s ranking has dropped again because other states have taken similar steps.

Wade Pogany, with the school board association, said there’s another reason South Dakota teacher salaries aren’t gaining over other states. An overall workforce shortage means school districts need to spend more money on other employees.

“We’re desperately trying to find bus drivers and aides and cooks and custodians, you know, all the people that help us run good schools,” Pogany said.

The Associated School Boards keeps a database of vacant teaching positions statewide. Pogany says currently there are more than 100 open positions for full- and part-time teachers.

“We’re almost double what we’ve seen in years past.”

Pogany said the toughest positions to fill are in special education. He said school boards are managing but if shortages continue it may mean larger class sizes or reduced class offerings.

The Teacher Compensation Review board projects teacher shortages may get worse if current workforce and student population trends remain the same. The report says the student to teacher ratio could rise dramatically. Right now, the state has about 14 students for every teacher but that ratio could climb to 20 to 1 by 2025.

Note: Figure above is taken from 2021 Teacher Compensation Review Board Report.

The pandemic has played a factor in the teacher shortage. Loren Paul, president of the South Dakota Education Association, said even before COVID-19 hit, the state was starting to see fewer teachers. South Dakota’s pay rate can’t compete with neighboring states.

“We lose a lot of our education students to other states, but we also have a lot of educators that live in the state and just teach across the border because they can make so much more,’ Paul said.

More than 80% of the education students at the state’s public colleges and universities stay in South Dakota, according to Board of Regents data from 2017 to 2020. The Teacher Compensation Review Board report says many out-of-state college students seeking teaching degrees return home to teach.

Paul said lawmakers need to put more money towards education funding in the next legislative session. He said the funding formula sets a yearly increase to teacher salaries by 3% or the rate of inflation, whichever is less.

“If we want to gain again, and actually get out of 50th place, our increases, yearly increases in the state, are going to have to be more than just the rate of inflation. It's going to have to be above and beyond that,” he said.

Sen. Kyle Shoenfish, R-Yankton, is vice-chair of the Senate education committee.

“If there's concern about South Dakota falling behind with teacher pay in there, I think, you know, all aspects of the funding formula should be revisited.”

Shoenfish said in 2016, lawmakers created several bills to address teacher pay and school funding. Shoenfish voted for a half penny sales tax increase, but he did not support changes to the funding formula.

He said revisions have limited the way school districts raise local revenue. Shoenfish said many school districts used to receive revenue from utilities taxes, wind farm taxes and the bank franchise tax. The 2016 legislature put a cap on how much schools can keep in reserve funds and capped the amount schools can raise through local property taxes.

Shoenfish wants to undo those changes.

“I'm a big believer in local control in general, and seems like in the past few years, not only with funding but on other issues, we've been kind of moving away towards local control.”

Shoenfish said it’s too soon to tell what the legislature may do to address teacher pay in the next legislative session. But he agrees South Dakota must keep its teacher pay competitive with neighboring states.