SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — State law requires South Dakota to increase school funding by 3% or the Consumer Price Index, whichever is lower, each year.
For a while it appeared Gov. Kristi Noem and the Legislature wouldn’t be doing that because of concerns about state revenue. But Monday, Noem and several legislators announced a 2% increase in school funding.
Tim Graf, the superintendent at Harrisburg Schools, said the increase is “very welcome.”
The increase helps the Harrisburg district and others in the state have teachers’ salaries that are competitive with other school districts in the nation and region.
“It’s really important, it’s worth close to $3 million in our general fund,” said Todd Vik, the business manager for the Sioux Falls School District.
State funding is closely tied to teacher pay because about 80% of a many school districts general fund budget goes toward teacher pay.
“We spend 80 to 85% on salaries and benefits…,” Graf said of Harrisburg’s general fund.
More than 80% of the Sioux Falls District’s non-federal money comes from state aid and more than 80% of the general fund budget is spend on teacher salaries and benefits, Vik said.
The state changed school funding for fiscal year 2017 to a plan called Target Teacher Salary in an effort to increase pay for teachers. The plan includes providing up to a 3% increase in state or the CPI increase, whichever is lower. The state increased the state sales tax by a half cent from 4% to 4.5% to generate money for state aid to schools. The formula is based on a student to teacher ratio based on enrollment.
“We’re pleased the Legislature is following the law,” said Mary McCorkle, the president of the South Dakota Education Association. McCorkle said the Legislature still needs to approve the final funding bill but she expects that to happen on Thursday.
Since the fiscal year 2017, the state includes a Target Teacher Salary amount for general state aid formula but also breaks it down into the per student equivalent.
Based on state data, the per student funding has increased by about a $1,000 from fiscal year 2016 to fiscal year 2020. The per student funding was $4,876.76 in fiscal year 2016 and it was $5,762.81 in fiscal year 2020.
McCorkle said the Target Teacher plan is helping to retain and attract teachers in South Dakota.
“In the days pre-2016 our school districts struggled to fill positions,” McCorkle said. There is less of a struggle now but state aid still behind the goals of the Blue Ribbon Task Force that developed it, McCorkle said.
No increase for the coming fiscal year could have been a challenge for some school districts.
“If you give a 0% increase it makes it hard to give increases to teachers,” Vik said.
Districts may have needed to make cuts in programs without an increase in state aid, Vik said.