SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — In her Tuesday budget address, Governor Kristi Noem announced her proposal for a 6% increase in pay for state workers, as well as for education. This has served as a point of interest for many, as South Dakota falls dead last in the U.S. in average teacher pay according to the National Education Association.
With an average teacher salary of $48,984, a 6% pay raise would mean an extra $2,939.04/year for teachers.
But according to Loren Paul, President of the South Dakota Education Association (SDEA), that isn’t exactly what this 6% bump in state aid for education means.
“This goes beyond teacher pay,” said Paul. “This is educator pay. This is for our paraprofessionals, our bus drivers, or cooks, custodians, teachers; this is, across the board our educators.”
Paul says the 6% boost really is needed as the state faces an educator shortage driven in large parts by low pay. “The school districts desperately need this 6% to help out with salaries,” he said. “Hopefully that’s where it’s put.”
Hopefully, notes Paul, because a 6% pay increase is not a guarantee.
“There’s several things to this,” Paul cautioned. “Just because the governor is proposing 6% for the school districts, that doesn’t mean the teachers automatically get a 6% raise. Teachers have to negotiate with the school district to get a percentage of the raise.”
Paul says the 6% increase in funding to the school system could go to other needs, a decision that is up to the districts themselves.
“She specifically said this needs to go to the salaries,” Paul said, alluding to the governor’s address, “and it really does.”
Paul says there is one big reason the funding needs to go toward educator salaries: “There’s a teacher/educator shortage right now.”
When it comes to South Dakota’s position as the worst state of teacher pay, Paul says he doesn’t think a 6% increase would improve our ranking, but that it is a step in the right direction.
“Hopefully that will gain us on the states surrounding us — we may or may not overtake a state and get to 49th or 48th — but we will gain on the states around us more than likely,” said Paul.
Due to the decision to allocate funds being left to the school district, Paul says that educators may likely see differences in how much of a raise they receive. “It just depends what a district feels they can afford,” he said. “Just because they get 3% or 6% from the state, whatever it shall be, that does not mean the teachers get that. That’s what the school district gets as an increase for overall funding.”
If the increased funding doesn’t go to educator salaries, what could it be used for? “Some districts could use it for buildings if they’re in really bad shape and they can’t pass a bond, and things like that,” reasoned Paul, “but you can build a building, but if you don’t have the educators for it it’s not going to do you as much good as it should.”
While this distinction means a pay raise is not guaranteed for educators, Paul is sure to point out that there is a flip side to this as well. “What they put into salaries is up to the district. Sometimes it’s more — somebody might get 7%, somebody might get 3% — that’s all got to be negotiated.”
Paul says that a 6% increase in funding will help the issues facing the state’s education system, but it’s not a true fix.
“The 6% sure is a nice help — but it doesn’t fix it,” said Paul. “Our problem is the years where we don’t even meet inflation, and we’ve had several of those. The last couple years we’ve been above it, but several years before that we were below inflation and that really hurts us.”
Paul says that Noem has stepped up in terms of education funding in the last two years, but that continued attention to the issue must be given. “I think if we just could consistently, for several years increase above inflation, I think that would help us get out of 50th [in average teacher pay] — a couple more years above inflation and I think we could overtake a state or two.”