PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Legislation to extend potential financial penalties for South Dakota school districts that haven’t adequately raised teacher compensation won a lukewarm endorsement Monday.

The House Education Committee voted 8-6 to send HB 1080 forward. The House of Representatives could debate it as early as Wednesday afternoon.

The tally was 6-6 when the roll call reached the vice-chair, Representative Sue Peterson, R-Sioux Falls, and the chair, Representative Lana Greenfield, R-Doland. Both voted in favor. Said Greenfield, a retired teacher: “I think it’s worth a conversation.”

State aid to public schools and teacher compensation are two of the Legislature’s more complex topics. The legislation that Representative Hugh Bartels, R-Watertown, has proposed covers both.

First, some background. The Legislature in 2016 decided to increase the state sales and use tax to 4.5% from 4% and put the money toward reducing property taxes and increasing teacher compensation. An accompanying law said school districts needed to raise teacher compensation for 2019, 2020 and 2021 so it was at least at the statewide level from 2017 or face a potential $500 loss in state aid for each teacher in the school district.

The potential $500 penalty applied through the 2021 school year. That’s the part of the law that Bartels now wants extended. His pending legislation would prolong the penalty through the 2024 school year.

The Legislature allowed school districts to appeal the penalty to the Joint Committee on Appropriations. There have been appeals; the appropriations committee hasn’t yet levied a penalty. “At this point, no school district has lost funding,” South Dakota Education Association lobbyist Sandra Waltman testified.

Bartels said SDEA requested that the penalty be extended three years. SDEA is the statewide labor organization that represents teachers. Two other major education groups, Associated School Boards of South Dakota and School Administrators of South Dakota, didn’t take a position Monday.

The Deubrook school district superintendent, Kimberly Kludt, testified against the extension.

Kludt said her district had some teachers drop health insurance that the district provides for them and offers for dependents. Those decisions affected the district’s total compensation, Kludt said, and the local school board raised salary amounts rather than be out of compliance. Spending more on teacher compensation reduced what was spent on other needs such as supplies and non-teaching staff.

“This bill forces fiscal irresponsibility and is unsustainable,” Kludt said.