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Can We Shoot for Second-Worst?
Jan 22, 2014
I have made this argument before. Sandy-eared ostriches in the Legislature require that I make it again, and again....
The South Dakota Legislature this week considered a resolution—not a practical, policy-changing bill, mind you, just a resolution—that acknowledges a shortage of teachers in South Dakota due in part to low teacher pay. HCR 1002 passed the House over some objection from Republicans with poor reading comprehension. No Senators spoke against the resolution, but the Senate killed it Tuesday 15‒19.
Evidently some problems are too brutal for a majority of Senators to talk about, let alone solve.
The teacher shortage resolution didn't explicitly call for raising teacher pay, but it should have. Recent data show South Dakota is last, last, last in teacher pay, stunningly last, 30 percent below the national average, 10 percent below 48th-ranked Oklahoma, and six percent below 49th-ranked Mississippi. According to 2013 Quarter 3 data, South Dakota's cost of living is only 0.5 percent below the national average.
HCR 1002 mentioned the drop in young people choosing to work in education in South Dakota. Who can blame them? Our perennially low teacher wages make it harder for South Dakota graduates to deal with another ongoing problem, our high rates of student debt. A new report confirms reports from 2010, 2011, and 2012: South Dakota college graduates lead the nation in student debt, with 78 percent of our graduates carrying student loans. Their average debt is "only" $25,121, a middling amount compared to other states. But for those hardy young souls who go into teaching, why would they pass up the chance to move one state in any direction and pay off their student loans much faster with an average $8,000 to $18,000 pay hike?
Why won't we invest? Why have we let ourselves be this cheap for this long?
Why don't we rouse a campaign to erase our shameful status of stiffing our teachers? Let's see teachers, parents and students marching down the streets arm in arm, crying "Forty-Ninth! Forty-Ninth!" Let's see candidates for governor and legislature vow, "We're not shooting for the moon, just Mississippi!" Pegging a minimum wage for 9,200-some South Dakota teachers to Mississippi's next-worst in the nation would take $22.4 million a year. It would take $42.1 million to beat Oklahoma. (Get out the Saturn V to reach Minnesota: we'd need $154.4 million, a 39 percent increase in Governor Dennis Daugaard's proposed state aid to K-12 for FY2015.)
Money doesn't grow on corn stalks. But South Dakota found a million dollars to hand to a floundering beef plant, even as the state faced a crushing $127-million deficit. This year the Governor is finding $30 million to pour into his economic development fund sooner than planned.
Where there's a will, there's a way. The debate over HCR 1002 shows that South Dakota lacks the will to even talk about being better than worst in paying teachers what they are worth.
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 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 has taught math, English, speech, and French at high schools East and West River.