PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Leaders of several school organizations stuck to their message Wednesday: Governor Kristi Noem and the Legislature should respect South Dakota’s law on K-12 school funding.

That would mean state aid would increase two percent for the coming school year.

Associated School Boards of South Dakota executive director Wade Pogany said he is “optimistic” that will happen.

“Schools still need to meet the accountability requirements for the teacher salary thresholds set in 2016 legislation. We need two percent to meet those accountability standards.  I’m confident everyone working together will meet that goal,” Pogany said.

The forecast wasn’t as upbeat six weeks ago. During her December budget speech, the governor recommended a zero-increase for state aid, Medicaid-services providers and state government employees.

But in her State of the State speech Tuesday, the governor said state tax revenues came in stronger than expected during the past two months.

Noem said her “number one priority with additional, on-going money” would now be increases for those groups.

The head of the statewide bargaining organization for teachers and other school staff has a photo on her office wall showing Governor Dennis Daugaard signing into law the half-cent sales-tax increase that the Legislature approved in 2016.

The money went for property-tax relief and teacher salaries. Behind Daugaard in the photo are dozens of legislators and lobbyists in front of the Capitol’s grand staircase, applauding and cheering.

South Dakota Education Association president Mary McCorkle said Wednesday that Governor Noem’s budget speech sent a different message. So word went out that teachers needed to talk with their local legislators about how students would be affected.

“They’re the experts. They know what kids need. It would be nice if legislators visited schools and saw what kids need,” McCorkle said.

She said it was “good to hear” from the governor Tuesday that more revenue now might be available. “What I didn’t hear was a firm commitment as to what extent. We all would have liked to hear that.”

Average pay for teachers in South Dakota had been last in the nation for many years until the 2016 tax hike bumped them a few notches in the ranking. Now the fear is that gain will be lost.

“They’re unhappy. They’re highly concerned,” McCorkle said. She said the governor’s emphasis on economic development in her State of the State speech Tuesday needed to also commit to following the law.

“You can’t do one without the other,” McCorkle said.

The state Department of Education posts the baseline salaries for each school district each year.

Rob Monson, executive director for the School Administrators of South Dakota, said members of his group and the school boards association met with Governor Noem in October.

Monson said they shared with her the importance of funding the school-aid formula, so South Dakota could “keep up with the spirit of the Blue Ribbon Task Force work” that recommended the half-cent tax increase and stay competitive in the region on teacher salaries.

“We were a bit surprised when she proposed a zero percent in December in her budget. We always believe the economic outlook will be better than anticipated at the time of the speech and always hold the belief that funding will be available.” Monson said. 

He added, “We are appreciative that the governor has taken another look at the revenues and sees an opportunity to work towards the obligation of funding schools per the law.”

The school boards and administrators often take the same side on K-12 issues in the Legislature, while the teachers group differs with them at times.

So far, that division appears to be the case again this year, even though all three groups are working to convince lawmakers and the governor to adhere to the funding law.

The law requires funding to increase by what’s called the index factor. It’s defined as “the annual percentage change in the consumer price index for urban wage earners and clerical workers as computed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the United States Department of Labor for the year before the year immediately preceding the year of adjustment or three percent, whichever is less.”

“We’re in the same place. We have the same goal. But we are not strategically planning our next steps,” McCorkle said.