South Dakota Takes on Shortage of Qualified Teachers

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A South Dakota bill aimed at the state’s rural teacher shortage got past its first hurdle last week, but now its sponsor, Rep. Thomas Holmes (R-Dist.14), still has to find a way to pay for the program.

The proposal was approved by the House Appropriations Committee and will offer tuition assistance to some rural school employees. The purpose is to allow rural teachers to get teaching degrees in South Dakota in exchange for 5 years of teaching in the same school district, according to Associated Press. Up to 40 teachers-in-training a year would be included, but Rep. Dan Dryden (R-Dist.34) fears the money needed will be hard to find.

“Small, isolated school districts in this state … have difficulty attracting and retaining teachers,” Holmes, a Sioux Falls Republican, said in an interview. “Many times they hire someone, they’ll leave after a year, and it’s difficult for (the schools).”

The committee took the proposal’s $1.5 million appropriation out of the bill, saying that its removal would keep the bill moving forward and, perhaps, financing could be found at a later date. Wade Pogany, executive director of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota, asked the committee to consider the idea.  He added that it is but one of many that will appear during the legislative session addressing South Dakota’s infamous teacher shortage. Another program already existing is the Critical Teaching Needs Scholarship, which is aimed at special education, math, and science teachers.

On another note, South Dakota’s Teacher Compensation Assistance Program stopped paying out any money in 2009 just two years after it began. If education officials want more state funding to improve teachers’ salaries, it will not be coming from this program.

South Dakota lawmakers are trying now to repeal it from the statute. Patrick Anderson of the Argus Leader says that Jacqueline Sly (R-Rapid City), who is the chairman of the House education committee, took part in approving the repeal of TCAP and sent it on to the House floor for a decision.

A House bill written by South Dakota’s education department included the repeal. House Bill 1043 passed last week and will have a Senate committee hearing this week to “repeal certain outdated and obsolete” education laws.

The bill, established by former Gov. Mike Rounds, was created to give schools extra funding for personnel costs and was paid for by cigarette taxes. It was to run through 2012, with educators and officials overseeing it. Districts were to match one-fifth of the states contribution along with certain other guidelines.

None of that happened because Rounds pulled the funding and the cigarette money was returned to the state general fund.

South Dakota is last in the country in average teacher salary. The 5-year proposal is a “selective funding program” says Sly, probably not appropriate for South Dakota, which needs a permanent solution for the state’s teachers.

Corie Kerr of Education World writes that another possible solution to the state’s teacher salary dilemma is a sales tax increase.  Several educator groups suggested in a recent Argus Leader article that a one penny increase to state sales tax in June, July, and August could be collected. The money could go into a special fund for school districts only.

This alone would bring in about $40 million, some estimate, but the designers did not know how supportive lawmakers would be. Rob Monson, executive director of the School Administrators of South Dakota, said that voters would be more likely to support the plan. Those opposed say that school districts determine the salaries of their teachers, so a state decision could have little effect on future salaries.