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MERCER: Another beat-down for teacher morale

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opinion Mitchell, 57301
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

PIERRE — Talk about a fascinating political statement. State senators voted 19-16 the other day to reject a resolution recognizing South Dakota Bob Mercer, Capitol Correspondenthas teacher shortages.

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None of the opponents said why. When you have the votes, you don’t need to explain. Earlier in the House of Representatives, 18 had voted no.

Altogether one-third of the Legislature — 37 of 105 — refused to support recognizing the problems expressed in the resolution. Thirty-six were Republicans. Their political party controls the Legislature.

On the Capitol’s second floor is Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard. Three years ago, facing a budget crisis, he called for 10 percent cuts including for K-12 schools. Times are better, but that school money hasn’t been replaced. The governor’s recommendation for the coming budget still leaves the schools short.

That too is fascinating. Republicans run state government head to heel. The majority of voters, whether statewide or in legislative districts, gave them the responsibility. Because they’re elected, we assume they’re delivering what the majority of South Dakota voters want for public schools.

That means the lowest salaries in the nation for teachers.

Low pay often means low expectations. Low expectations often mean low results.

People typically look for the best deal and for what they think they want to afford.

Voters in every school district could raise their local property taxes for schools, if they wanted. But they often don’t. When they occasionally do, they typically charge themselves just enough extra so their schools can get by financially and stay open.

There is no groundswell for raising teacher salaries in South Dakota. Fact is, there never has been. People in the education field feel discouraged. They interpret this refusal to pay more as a sign of disrespect.

When we as taxpayers are unwilling to tax ourselves more to pay our teachers more, is that disrespect? When the governor and the Legislature take more than three years to restore a funding cut, is that disrespect?

Disrespect is a difficult question for us to ask about us. We don’t have facts that show pay is a reason we have shortages of teachers, especially qualified teachers who are good. We should get those facts.

We also should get facts showing real costs for the different levels of quality in teachers. Then we as taxpayers can decide what level of teacher quality we are willing to support.

Our federal deficit shows us that, at the national level, we the taxpayers don’t elect people who are willing to spend within our nation’s means. Yet we keep sending these people, regardless of political party. It shows that we aren’t willing to accept that we should pay what things actually cost.

When it comes to our schools and teachers, we don’t rely on debt for the salaries and ongoing expenses. We give them what they get to spend. This is local control. We value it.

We base these spending decisions on what we think we can afford now and what we think we as a people can tolerate now. We don’t ask whether we are being disrespectful of our teachers or our children.

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