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South Dakota’s teacher pay raise plan struggles to deliver

June 21, 2019

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Three years after South Dakota lawmakers overhauled the state’s education funding formula to raise teacher salaries, superintendents say the new system isn’t delivering as promised. And they say they trying to figure out how to cope if the underfunding continues.

For the last two years, the state hasn’t delivered on the funding it promised under the 2016 changes to help local school districts increase the state’s last-in-the-nation average teacher salaries and stay competitive, the Argus Leader reported Friday.

“People have gotten this big belief that we’ve gotten this money and that we’re ahead of the game,” Harrisburg Superintendent Jim Holbeck said. “That’s not the case. If we don’t fund this thing according to the formula, we’ll be right back where we were.”

The retooled formula, guided by a blue ribbon task force appointed by then-Gov. Dennis Daugaard, shifted the focus from funding based on the number of students a district has to funding based on student-teacher ratios.

The changes included a half-cent increase in the state sales tax, with a target goal of making the average salary for teachers $48,500. In the first year, salaries increased an average of 8.8 percent, raising South Dakota above last in the nation for the first time in nearly 30 years.

The changes also required the state to provide annual funding increases of either 3 percent or the inflation rate, whichever is less. The state fully funded that obligation in its first year but not the second or third due to a cash flow struggle. Promises to districts to backfill what was owed haven’t panned out.

“When can schools start to trust what the legislature passes?” Holbeck said. “We had our formula, and within two years they don’t live up to their word. That’s a big issue. When can we trust something that’s being told to us?”

There’s now a $3.6 million gap between money promised under the formula and what districts have received. And as the state’s 149 school districts look at approving 2020 budgets in July, many superintendents aren’t sure how they’ll handle it.

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Information from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com

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