Gov, Dems Disagree On Ed Funding Change

Jan 10, 2017

State lawmakers say they want to adjust parts of last year’s education overhaul. The governor says the current reform is working, because a sales tax for teacher pay is pushing average educator salaries up.  

One piece of vast K-12 education reform from 2016’s legislative session involves declining enrollment. Schools now must use the final number of students enrolled in the fall to determine their share of state dollars. Before they could average the previous two years to ease into lower funding.

Democrats State Representative Spence Hawley and State Senator Billie Sutton
Credit Kealey Bultena / SDPB

Democratic State Senator Billie Sutton says that leaves some school districts without the boost education reform promised.

"I think if we can fix the declining enrollment, those schools that got way less money than they thought they were going to get will be brought up back up to more in line with what happening in the rest of the state where you’re seeing pretty good increases in teacher pay," Sutton says. "The example I would use is Bon Homme school district was one of those. They thought they were going to get $6,000 or $7,000 per teacher, and they ended up getting like $1,000. That’s just not right."

Other leaders argue the situation isn’t simple. Governor Dennis Daugaard says districts have fewer students for various reasons.

SD Governor Dennis Daugaard
Credit Kealey Bultena / SDPB

"Some of the people that complain the loudest about this change in fact have enrollment that’s declining not because their population is declining but because students are leaving that school and [open-enrolling] in their preferred school in the neighborhood," Daugaard says. "People are voting with their feet. So do we want to ignore that and reward schools with money when they can’t keep their own students who live within their own district at all? I question that."

Changing the state’s policy on declining enrollment requires more money. Daugaard says he’s concerned about taking funds from other places in budget.