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South Dakota voters rejected Pierre's merit pay plan for teachers. Photo by Chad Coppess of S.D.Tourism.
South Dakota voters rejected Pierre's merit pay plan for teachers. Photo by Chad Coppess of S.D.Tourism.

Support Education? Show Me the Money

Nov 28, 2012


Last January, Melody Schopp, South Dakota's education secretary, said she didn't think great teachers were motivated by monetary rewards. She then spent the rest of this year advocating her boss Governor Daugaard's scheme to motivate teachers with monetary rewards.

South Dakota voters shot that nonsense down at the polls. "The voters did speak on the issue," sighed Secretary Schopp the next day, "but I don't think, though, that in the long term it will change the important work we're doing moving forward." Secretary Schopp then went on a retreat with her Department of Education staff (and oh, how I enjoy using the words "retreat" and "Department of Education" in the same sentence) and settled on some slightly more coherent language. She now tells the press that DoE's focus in the coming legislative session won't be "reforming" education but "supporting" education.

Whew! What a relief. Secretary Schopp appears to be abandoning the "change for change's sake" rhetoric that she and other gubernatorial water-carriers mustered in defense of the Governor's toxic education reform package. But now that our schools don't need "reform," what sort of "support" do we need? 

Let me help you out, Secretary Schopp. I do this school thing for a living. Support means putting South Dakota's money where its mouth is. Support does not mean more task force meetings or workshops or expensive software. Support means pay.

South Dakota has paid the lowest teacher salaries in the nation for at least two generations. Here are the numbers: 

  • In 2011, South Dakota paid teachers an average of $39,850.
  • That's $4,300 less, almost 10% less, than in the next lowest state, Oklahoma.
  • That's $6,200 less (14%) than in the cheapest neighboring state, North Dakota.
  • That's $16,800 less (30%) than the national average teacher salary.
  • Last I checked, South Dakota's cost of living is only 0.5% below the national average.
  • South Dakota's 2011 per capita income was over $44,000, 13th nationwide.
  • Nationally in 2011, per capita income was $41,560.
  • In 2011, South Dakota teachers made 10% less than the state per capita income.
  • In 2011, teachers nationwide made 36% more than the national per capita income.

You want to support education? Raise teacher pay. Give each teacher the $11,000 raise that would get us to the regional average. Give us each the $4,300 that would tie us for last place with Oklahoma.

Paying teachers more isn't about boosting our motivation or performance (though even $4,300 would go a long way to getting teachers' minds off looking for a second job to cover the car payment). Paying teachers more is about admitting and erasing the far-too-long-standing shame of valuing teachers less than any other state in the Union. It's about paying us what we are worth.

Secretary Schopp, thank you for your support. Now show us the money.


Editor's Note: Cory Heidelberger is our political columnist from the left. For a right-wing perspective on politics, please look for columns by Dr. Ken Blanchard every other Monday on this site.

Cory Allen Heidelberger writes the Madville Times political blog. He grew up on the shores of Lake Herman. He studied math and history at SDSU and information systems at DSU, and is currently teaching French at Spearfish High School. A longtime country dweller, Cory is enjoying "urban" living with his family in Spearfish.



05:20 am - Thu, November 29 2012
Grumpy said:
If you can't afford to teach get a better job or cheaper car.
05:32 am - Thu, November 29 2012
To the extent this has any bearing on policy, I drive a 2002 VW Bug, purchased last year for $6000. I bought it with 163K miles on it. I traded in my 1993 Jeep (got $2000!) and doubled my fuel efficiency. Thanks to living in town, I drive that car maybe twice a month and ride my 1994 bicycle most of the time, even in winter. You want personal budget efficiency? I'm your man.

The larger point: "Grumpy's" comment above epitomizes the idea that we can pay teachers substandard wages and dismiss those who advocate for more as complainers. The fact "Grumpy" won't leave her/his real name suggests she/he recognizes that we should be ashamed of such an attitude.
08:31 am - Thu, November 29 2012
Jon said:
I do not think anyone has ever shown a recent comparison where increased spending on education resulted in increased test or otherwise scores. 10% below the average per capita!!! Unless you have year around schooling I believe the working period for teachers is around 8 months. I think you need to include entire benefit package the public employee vs private. I think public vs private all have some employees who work harder than others. I know when I went to college a lot of grads were attracted to teaching, because of the holiday and summer vacation package which they assumed was a huge benefit. In fact a lot of them would easily make up that 10% in a 3 month period.

If you want to become MN you can try. Unfunded tricks on a retirement plan not found anyplace in the private sector. A state where the three largest employers are the U of Mn, federal government and state government. A system where if you can kick the problems down the road a few years you may be covered, and now the baby boomers ready to cash in on the system that is not ready to hanled it.

North Dakota is going to be at an advantage on everything with their new found wealth. Find South Dakota's new wealth first. I think South Dakota has done fine and the cliff that DC and a lot of states are going to fall off, no matter how far down the road you kick the problems, will be handled better by South Dakota. I think South Dakotans will be admired for their financial responsibility.
10:38 pm - Thu, November 29 2012
Jon, like I said, it's not about demanding more work or duties. It's about paying a fair wage for the service South Dakota's already getting. South Dakotans pay Kia prices for Cadillac teaching. That's not fiscal responsibility; that's cheating... and over the years, the Cadillac dealers have been figuring it out.
05:00 pm - Fri, November 30 2012
larry kurtz said:
Thank you, Cory for raising awareness for South Dakotans hoping to keep talent in the state: "Al's" virtual self-immolation not withstanding.

Secretary Schopp sounded the alarm, too the other day: with luck someone with resources to mitigate the brain drain will listen.
12:38 pm - Sat, December 1 2012
larry kurtz said:
Lol! Nobody has to convince me that South Dakota is in steep decline, Al/Julie/Beranek: as the median age among white retirees with blue hair in a red state is an inverse curve.

Cory and Bernie are saints for putting up with your hatred of progress.
12:46 pm - Sat, December 1 2012
larry kurtz said:
Oh, and by the way: if it were not for Social Security and farm subsidies making property tax payments for South Dakota's red state legislature, the state would have collapsed long before now.
04:29 pm - Sat, December 1 2012
Grumpy said:
Let me tell you Bernie has some common sense but Cory?????????????????
11:43 am - Mon, December 3 2012
anonymous said:
"South Dakotans pay Kia prices for Cadillac teaching. "

No,that's not the metaphor.

We're paying Ford prices for Cadillacs that have been stripped down by liberalism.

Those driving the stripped down Cadillacs are trying to convinve us that they're still Cadillacs. Every year, something essential from the Cadicllac is being replaced by fuzzy dice. Every year, those driving refuse to have the exhaust tested, or have any pictures taken of the stripped down Caddy.

Cory's columns are evidence that those driving the stripped down Caddies still think that they're driving luxurious Cadillacs. They never get out, and they don;t want their pictures taken.
11:44 am - Mon, December 3 2012
Al Johnson said:
The above is mine.
11:51 am - Wed, December 5 2012
Al Johnson said:
If one increases the SD salaries by $11,000 above the regional average, the regional average in no longer what is was--THAT's the NEVERENDING race we will NEVER win. I know why teachers & teachers unions always taklk about getting coser to the average, but by doing so, the average moves ever UPWARD.

Teachers who demand that support = $ should not be teaching.
12:00 pm - Wed, December 5 2012
Al Johnson said:
Correction: If one increases the SD salaries by $11,000 TO REACH the regional average
04:58 pm - Wed, December 5 2012
I commit no such mathematical crime. I identify the current regional average. I contend that would be a reasonable to aim for. There is no economic reason South Dakota should be paying its teachers such a significantly lower wage than the value that economically similar neighbors assign to similar services.
04:59 pm - Wed, December 5 2012
Cheap shots bore me, Grump. And I'm not sure what taking my picture has to do with anything. Stick with the issues or admit the weakness and fallaciously, obsessively personal nature of your argument.
06:29 am - Fri, December 7 2012
Justme said:
Sounds like Mr. Johnson should be writing instead of a guy who gets bored.
07:21 pm - Tue, December 11 2012
My boredom comes from the fact that comments like the above anonymous comment ignore the real issues and the need to support education to produce literate citizens, not to mention to sustain South Dakota's economic prospects. Paying teachers a moral wage and making education a real priority matter infinitely more than "Al"'s tedious personal vendetta.
11:39 am - Wed, December 12 2012
Al Johnson said:
To equate support of public education with more money IS the fallacy that is to be addressed.

Terms like "moral wage" only serve to obfuscate the real issues.
11:46 am - Wed, December 12 2012
Al Johnson said:
Thank you Justme.
10:40 am - Fri, April 26 2013
Donnelly said:
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a good read. Thank you for sharing!
05:15 am - Sat, October 31 2015
Geer said:
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