Education advocates to pursue more state funding

PIERRE (AP) -- South Dakota teachers didn't get the break they were looking for in Gov. Dennis Daugaard's spending plan for the state's next budget cycle.

PIERRE (AP) - South Dakota teachers didn't get the break they were looking for in Gov. Dennis Daugaard's spending plan for the state's next budget cycle.

So, education advocates said Thursday, they plan to push for more funding and measures to hike teacher pay during the 2015 legislative session, which convenes in January.

Daugaard proposed about $50 million in new general fund spending in his budget for fiscal year 2016, with a roughly 2 percent increase - about $15.4 million - going to schools. School aid would make up about 30 percent of state spending. But lower-than-expected revenues kept the Republican governor from seeking larger spending hikes, and the budget contains no tax increases.

Democrats had hoped Daugaard would tackle the state's teacher shortage. Advocates say inadequate pay is a serious barrier to attracting teachers to the state, which ranks last in the nation for teacher compensation, according to the National Education Association.

"I continue to be disappointed that this governor refuses to recognize the crisis he continues to create for our local communities," Rep. Susan Wismer said. Teacher pay was a splitting point in the governor's race, which the Democrat lost in November. "He's just conducting a war of attrition particularly on our smallest schools in the state."


The average teacher in South Dakota makes $39,018 - far below the national average of $56,103, according to NEA statistics from the 2012-2013 school year.

Associated School Boards of South Dakota executive director Wade Pogany said the group will push for a 3 percent increase in state aid to schools and for a measure to increase teacher pay. Education groups put forward a plan earlier this year to do a small sales tax increase in the summer to pad teacher compensation, but a proposal during the session may look different, Pogany said.

A report released Wednesday by School Administrators of South Dakota said the number of potential retirees in 2015 dwarfs the number of seniors studying teaching at South Dakota colleges and universities by nearly 300 people. The number of juniors studying teaching is even grimmer.

Dan Schmidt, who is in a master's degree program for teaching at South Dakota State University, said he would prefer to get a teaching job in Minnesota. A large factor is the pay - averaging $56,268 - but he also wants to work in a state that values education.

He said the governor hasn't made education a priority.

"Do you want to fly the coop and go cash in somewhere else, so to speak, or maybe stick around and try to change some things around here?" the 25-year-old Brookings resident said. "Is your voice going to be heard? The track record of South Dakota is no."

Daugaard has said the state can't spend money it doesn't have, calling his budget a conservative increase built on a modestly growing economy. He pushed back on some of Democrats' doomsday rhetoric, saying it's expedient to refer to chosen causes in the "most desperate terms possible" to make them a higher priority.

Daugaard aide Tony Venhuizen said Thursday that Daugaard is unlikely to support any tax increases - such as the one education groups have proposed - to fund additional teacher pay.


Republican Sen. Deb Soholt, who chaired the Senate Education Committee last session, said lawmakers would discuss how to "attract, recruit and retain" teachers in the upcoming session.

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