PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Public K-12 education is slated to receive a 5% increase in state aid in Governor Kristi Noem’s proposed 2024 budget, but education lobbyists highlighted problems schools are dealing with during Wednesday’s Joint Committee on Appropriations meeting. 

Wade Pogany, executive director for Associated School Boards of South Dakota, told lawmakers South Dakota schools are falling behind. Pogany shared data from the National Education Association showing South Dakota is behind all six neighboring states in teacher pay. 

South Dakota’s average teacher salary is $49,547, while Minnesota is at $66,561. 

“We are last in the region on these averages,” Pogany said. “We have to keep up.” 

Pogany shared a five-page document highlighting issues schools are facing with teacher pay and keeping teachers. 

In December 2022, the ASBSD Teacher Placement Center had 176 teacher openings. 

“We have never seen that in history,” Pogany said. “It’s the highest we’ve ever been. It’s 65 positions higher than last year and that was a record.” 

Republican Rep. Ernie Otten asked Pogany how many school districts are in Montana. Otten said consolidating more school districts should be part of the teacher pay discussion. 

“Consolidation going forward is something you’re going to have to think about,” Otten said. 

Pogany said there are 302 school districts in Montana and South Dakota has 149 school districts. 

Rob Munson, executive director of the School Administrators of South Dakota, said South Dakota once had more than 4,000 schools and they’re now consolidated down to 149 public school districts. 

Pognay said school boards are desperate to find teachers and he said it’s all schools – rural, urban, big and small. 

Republican Rep. Tony Venhuizen said some of the increases in open positions correlate to when the COVID-19 pandemic started and asked about other ways to expand the eligible workforce. 

“You quickly come to the conclusion that there’s just not enough people to go around and even raising pay doesn’t do it,” Venhuizen said. 

Pogany said Venhuizen is right and there needs to be multiple facets to fill open teacher positions. He said he’s focused on salary but there also are streamlining teacher credentials and enticing current students about teaching. 

“Like everybody else, this is a workforce issue,” Pogany said. “I think salary policy is part of that.” 

Pogany said the pipeline for teachers coming into South Dakota is good but the pipeline going out is bad. He said too many teachers get educated in the state and then take teaching jobs out-of-state. 

“I think a lot of it has to do with salary,” Pogany said. 

Republican Sen. Jack Kolbeck asked Pogany what teachers pay for income taxes in Iowa. Pogany did not have an answer but Kolbeck said his son had to make $12,000 more in Minnesota to make up for what he’d lose in income taxes from the same job in South Dakota. 

The state income tax in Iowa is 3.9%, while in Minnesota state income tax ranges from 5.35% to 9.85%. 

“We’re not comparing apples to apples here,” Kolbeck said.  

Diana Miller, who lobbies for the state’s 25 largest schools, told lawmakers schools are sitting in uncomfortable times. 

“With a number of tax cuts being proposed, a number of bills on vouchers, another of other things going on that are anti-public education,” Miller said. “Our enrollment is growing. More than 12,000 students have been added to the K-12 public education system.” 

Miller said public education is dealing with growth along with more mental health issues with youth and a variety of other complex problems. She said there’s programs using student teachers to fill needs, retired teachers to fill classes and mentorship programs. 

“When you give us 5%, we only have two ways we get money – local property taxes and state aid,” Miller said. “We have to use our state aid for things like cooks, janitors, utilities and we’re experiencing all that you are experiencing on inflation.” 

Rep. Otten asked if not 5%, how much would schools want and Miller said 8%. 

“The greatest resource you have in South Dakota are your young people,” Miller said. “I want to make sure we continue to educate them.”