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Legislature to debate whether SD suffers teacher shortage

South Dakota lawmakers will hear the conclusions of a study committee on teacher shortages when the 2014 legislative session begins Jan. 7. (AP photo)

PIERRE — The Legislature will debate this year whether South Dakota has a teacher shortage.

A legislative study committee filed a resolution that concludes “teachers are in short supply in this state, and that school districts of all sizes are now struggling to retain qualified teachers and to fill teacher vacancies.”

The resolution suggests the Legislature explore tuition reimbursement programs and other programs or policies “that could help attract more good people into the teaching profession in South Dakota, and to keep the good teachers that are already here.”

Proof of those points isn’t in plain sight, however.

Wade Pogany, executive director for the Associated School Boards of South Dakota, said he and the head of the school administrators organization are working with the University of South Dakota to gather data on the status of teachers.

The state Department of Education doesn’t collect information related to open positions in school districts or the number of applicants for those vacancies, according to Mary Stadick Smith, a spokeswoman for the department.

The state Board of Regents central office compiles an annual report on the teacher-preparation programs at the five state-supported universities that offer teaching degrees. Since 2008, they have expanded emphasis on high-need subject areas.

The four traditional areas of need — math, science, special education and speech — now also include art, career and technical education, English as a new language, health, music, physical education, social science, language arts and world languages.

The universities also are trying to fit more teachers with rural districts.

The 2013 report noted, “(S)ome rural districts are, in fact, unable to attract qualified applicants for any teaching position.”

The most recent data collected by the regents show elementary education was the largest area of interest systemwide with 495 students, followed by early childhood education with 282. Special education ranked No. 3 with 181.

Only two other areas — history with 112 and physical education with 103 — had 100 or more students enrolled.

The resolution, HCR 1002, points out that teacher salaries are higher in neighboring states and some teachers leave South Dakota for those jobs.

The resolution also argues that “fewer and fewer” college students are seeking education degrees with plans to enter the teaching profession.

The resolution is offered by the interim education funding formula study committee. Its 15 members voted 10-4 to support the resolution. Its prime sponsor is Rep. Jacqueline Sly, R-Rapid City. She is a retired teacher and is chairwoman of the House Education Committee.