Teaching is hard work, but despite the education, dedication, and expertise it demands, teachers are startlingly underpaid compared with other professionals with similar education and training. That's true across the board. However, teachers' pay varies widely state-to-state. This year, South Dakota has decided to take action in order to move their teachers up the pay ranks and help their schools and students succeed. Let's take a closer look at how they'll do it, and what encouraged them toward this action.
Teachers' pay in South Dakota had been incredibly low.
Even when adjusted for cost of living, South Dakota's teachers' pay was startlingly low. When you consider the fact that teachers need college degrees (and about half have a master's degree or higher) a starting salary that's just shy of $30,000 is actually pretty insulting.
Sadly, things don't get much better once teachers get a few years under their belts. In general, veteran teachers' salaries don't rise much after years on the job. In South Dakota, the latest data shows the average teacher salary at about $39,000. The salary data for teachers in the state of South Dakota was very low, even when compared with the low salaries of teachers across the country.
The state's schools and students suffered as a result of these low salaries.
Low teacher pay comes with a price, and, unfortunately, it's often students who end up paying it. Trained educators in South Dakota found they could relocate to another region, or simply commute over the border to another state, and make as much as $10,000 more per year. It's easy to understand why they'd make that choice.
"When student teachers from Black Hills State University can start out making $8000 more than me in Wyoming, and I have a Master's degree and 20 years of experience, I tell them to go for it," Shelley Mikkelson, who was named the South Dakota Education Association's 2016 Teacher of Excellence, told the Butte County Post.
There are many ways in which low pay hurts the quality of education schools can provide. If teachers struggle to make ends meet, they might need to take on second or even third jobs, which takes away from the time and energy they are able to invest in the classroom. In South Dakota, about 25 percent of teachers took on second jobs in recent years.
South Dakota ended up facing a serious problem with teacher shortages as a result of the low pay.
The teacher shortage problem in South Dakota had become chronic and severe, especially in some of the most rural parts of the state. A survey released the summer before last found that at the end of May, over 30 percent of the teaching positions that sought applications for the following year remained open, when those positions had historically mostly been filled by this point on the calendar. Also concerning: the shortages were not in any one particular area, but were widespread and systemic.
Superintendents started to use words like "crisis" to describe the problems facing their schools, and focus increasingly began to turn toward doing something to dramatically raise teacher pay in the state.
Now, teachers in South Dakota are about to get a significant raise.
In an effort to better the educational system for South Dakota's students, the state Senate voted 25-10 to increase the state sales and use tax from 4 percent to 4.5 percent. This might seem like a small change, but the result should be a $70 million increase for the state's education budget. Sixty-three percent of the proceeds will go to aid public schools, while 34 percent will go toward property-tax relief, and 3 percent will go toward raising the instructor salaries at the public technical institutes in the state.
The hope is that the average teacher pay in the state will rise to $48,500 a year, which would help to bring about big changes in South Dakota schools.
"It's a bold move in the right direction for the education of the future of South Dakota," Dave Davis, Rapid City School Board member told the Butte County Post. "This is not a cure-all, but it's certainly a step in the right direction."
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