OPINION: Measure 15 the best funding fixI have heard virtually every legislator I have spoken with state that K-12 education is underfunded.
By: Lynn Vlasman , Guest columnist
In reading The Daily Republic, I see that its editorial board has taken the position to oppose Initiated Measure 15. A couple of arguments were put forward to support that position. One was that a family making a $10,000 purchase would end up paying an extra $100 in taxes on that purchase. Another statement was made questioning whether South Dakota teachers are really underpaid.
Over the last few years I have heard virtually every legislator I have spoken with state that K-12 education is underfunded. Many of them made this statement before the governor had to balance the budget by cutting education and other programs due to the poor economy. Tough decisions had to be made by the state, and those decisions required that school districts follow suit. Our school district has made several personnel cuts during the last two years. We have reduced our teaching staff by 3.5 positions, eliminated a part-time counselor and a part-time custodian. The cuts have shifted additional work to the remaining staff members and have resulted in fewer resources and choices for our students. The cuts have also resulted in our district needing to utilize a higher percentage of its opt-out fund.
I’m not sure that an additional 1 percent of sales tax is the best way to address the shortfall in school funding, but I do know that the Legislature has not been able to make much progress in terms of finding a better solution.
In 2008, our per capita income was $38,289, ranking 26th in the nation, but teacher pay has ranked last since 1994 when we managed to pass Mississippi for one year. Every state surrounding South Dakota has greater financial resources and can spend more than South Dakota. We can’t match their resources or dollars, but the percentage of the overall state budget committed to K-12 education could at least match the percentage committed in our neighboring states.
When the current school funding formula was initially set up, the funding of K-12 education was supposed to stay on average across the state a 52-48 percent split between state funding and local taxes. The state has lessened its support and well over half the districts in the state have had to raise local taxes through opt-outs.
While several of our legislators have tried to propose bills to help fund K-12 education (including a recent bill to just raise the sales tax during tourist season), none of those efforts has been successful. The failure to find additional funding has resulted in a greater burden being placed on local taxpayers.
There are some negatives to increasing the sales tax. Sales taxes are considered to be one of the more regressive forms of taxes, having a greater impact on those with lower incomes. There is a fear that adding a tax will slow our economy down. I have some difficulty believing this as many communities have been allowed to add an additional 1 or 2 percent to support their communities. I just wonder why it is so easy to add 1 or 2 percent to a sales tax to support an arena or an events center, but so difficult to add a percent to invest in educating children or to providing the resources needed to take care of our senior citizens.
The added sales tax may not be the best solution, but it could help lower local property taxes, at least a portion of it would come from people traveling through our state for tourism or business, and it will help our schools until a better solution comes along.
Lynn Vlasman is superintendent of the Tripp-Delmont School District.