PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Between FY2021 and FY2022 the turnover rate for South Dakota teachers nearly doubled according to the Department of Education.

Secretary of Education Joseph Graves told the Joint Committee on Appropriations Wednesday morning that while some of that turnover can be attributed to Baby Boomers retiring from the profession, it’s not the only cause.

“Clearly we’re having a teacher shortage right now,” Graves said. “We have for several years during COVID; we’ve seen people who are just leaving the profession in exasperation over COVID and some of the other issues that are going on.”

Graves went on to say that there are strong projections for an economic recession on the horizon which can be helpful for education.

“When an economic recession occurs, those jobs are starting to look better,” Graves explained.

While the teacher shortage persists, representatives with the DOE said that recent data shows an increase in certifications of new teachers as well as alternative certifications.

To combat turnover, the Department of Education (DOE) has created several programs to maintain retention. That includes looking more into reciprocity with other states, mentoring programs and alternative certification which would allow those with a bachelor’s degree that isn’t in education to receive the certification required to become a teacher in South Dakota.

Mentorship programs for teachers have shown to increase retention by 10% from those who did not participate in mentorship according to the department.

South Dakota currently ranks last in the nation when it comes to teacher pay with an average salary of $49,547.

Governor Kristi Noem’s FY2024 budget has a proposed 5% increase for state aid in education which equates to $24,000,000. The FY2023 budget included a 6% increase in compensation for educators.

According to the DOE, South Dakota public schools are seeing an increase in enrollments, interrupted slightly during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, while nonpublic enrollment has decreased. Enrollment in homeschools has nearly doubled between 2014 and now.

Providing educational assistance to foster children

In addition to the teacher shortage, the DOE discussed Noem’s proposed Stronger Families Scholarship.

Laura Ringling, senior policy advisor to the governor, told lawmakers that SB 100 would provide children in the foster care system with $4,000 to use for private school tuition, tutoring and teaching services, curriculum and standardized test and AP exam fees.

According to Ringling, the four-year average for children in the foster care system is around 1,700 with 1,000-1,200 of those children being of school age. The bill would ask for a “conservative” $15,000,000 budget for a pilot program of three years that would allow each child to use up to the full amount.

Democratic Representative Linda Duba asked Ringling why the scholarship would be putting public money to private schooling to which Ringling said that not every student would use the money for private school tuition, but it would allow families to pursue education opportunities that work best for their child. She went on to say that once a child is found eligible, even if they are removed from the foster care system and placed back with their biological parents, they would be able to continue to receive the scholarship throughout their K-12 education.

Ringling said that while they don’t anticipate every eligible child will use the scholarship to attend private school, they wanted to budget in a way that allowed each child to use the full amount of money provided.

If the bill is passed and funding allocated, the DOE will evaluate the success of the program three years from now and potentially extend the program, Ringling said.