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Graves: A spirit of compromise for this appreciated increase

Mitchell Superintendent Joe Graves with an opinion column.

Joe Graves column sig.JPG

It is said that grateful people are happy people. I’d like to tell you who said that but the origins are lost in an oddly modern antiquity. Apparently, lots and lots of people have said it.

I suspect that is the case because once you hear it, it clearly rings true. It is hard to appreciate something and not feel happy about it. So why then is it simultaneously hard to appreciate things? To be grateful? To be thankful?

And if at this point you are thinking my column is a bit late for Thanksgiving, you are correct. Except, as the southerners accused Lincoln when he proclaimed the national Thanksgiving holiday, one shouldn’t limit thankfulness to just one day each year or even one time of year. One should be grateful whenever there is reason to be.

And one of those reasons happened two weeks ago as Governor Noem offered her budget address. During that speech, she recommended a 6% increase in school funding. That was an extraordinary thing. An unprecedented thing. Fundamentally, a very important thing.

It is important because it is going to allow schools to boost the compensation levels of their teachers, as well as other employee groups. Teacher shortages have become endemic during the pandemic and show little sign of relenting. But the problem does not end with teachers. Schools across the state are struggling to hire teacher aides, food service employees, custodians, even administrators. Greater funding won’t entirely end the bleed but it will staunch the flow. Her proposal is a real solution aimed at a real problem.

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So, it is important.

But why do I also call in extraordinary? Consider the following. State law calls for increases to school funding to be based on a particular measure of inflation from a recent time period, not to exceed 3%. Most of the people who understand the formula well believe that the law called for about a 2.6% increase.

Yet the governor is recommending 6%. Some past governors, including Governor Noem, have asked for a bit more than the state law indicated. But it was always just a little more or it was a little more but the extra was one-time funding (and so couldn’t be really depended on for ongoing expenses like employee compensation). This year’s recommendation is a lot more, more than double in fact, and it is on-going. Next year’s new funding will build upon it. It can be spent on ongoing costs…again, like employee compensation. That kind of unprecedented (other than Governor Daugaard’s large bump which came with a half-penny increase in sales tax to pay for it) increase is genuinely extraordinary.

But it is also exceptional because of the reality of South Dakota politics. To be succinct—as if I were capable of such—Governor Noem has nothing to gain from this measure. At least not politically. Educators in South Dakota, and arguably even more so elsewhere, are usually neither Republicans nor Noem supporters. And an increase in the state finance formula for schools won’t change that. She is providing enhanced support for people who will appreciate it but who probably won’t be more supportive of her as a result of it.

In their defense, in the days immediately following the budget address, any number of education groups released statements applauding the measure and thanking the Governor. But what I also know is that educators don’t tend to cut politicians much slack over such things. They/we fail to see the connections between issues. Thus, the thank you for the enhanced funding is followed quickly by vitriolic condemnations over a social studies task force or the displaying of the national motto or the nexus between transgender issues and sports or even, I predict, a moment of silence to begin the school day.

Educators sometimes lack a spirit of compromise, which is kind of the only way to get things done in a representative democracy. They judge each and every issue as a standalone, viewed purely from their Weltanschauung.

Which has a certain appeal but also lacks a certain efficacy. It is also unfair and ungrateful. A recipe, in other words, for unhappy.

As for me, I prefer gratitude and happy. Thanks, governor.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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