South Dakota's rather embarrassing stature when it comes to support for public education won't change much if Governor Daugaard's 3% increase in the FY 2015 budget passes the legislature this winter. In the first place, it would take nearly 4% just to bring spending back up to its pre-2011 draconian budget-cutting levels. That 2011 over-reaction by Daugaard to a flawed economic analysis of projected state revenues was extra tough on schools that were already stretched to the max, financially. Merely getting us back to that pre-'11 status quo won't change some pretty tough realities that our state has to deal with. This made the oddly ingratiating reaction of some of the state's top public educators seem quizzical to me. When Daugaard made this proposal last month, Sandy Arsenault, the head of the South Dakota Education Association said SDEA was "really pleased." Rapid City Schools Superintendent Mitchell said he was "excited." Meantime, I'm scratching my head. Where's the public outcry over this?
And what's so pleasing and exciting about a budget that perpetuates such a flaccid financial commitment to public education that it keeps South Dakota in the bottom eleven of per-pupil spending of American states? I'd expect alarm bells to be ringing, especially in the Governor's Mansion in Pierre, where the most important priority continues to be economic development, so much so that a gigantic $30 million of the state's windfall money from the banking system's operation-change is headed toward a new economic development schemata called Building South Dakota. This strikes me as an end-run around the real basis of sound economic development--a well-educated population that has both the skills and the incentive to become a force for continued prosperity.
How we get from there to here isn't really subject to much debate. It's all about money. No doubt those who look at our spending levels and try to compare them nationally will say regional differences make those comparisons meaningless. I say baloney. States immediately surrounding us, including Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, Minnesota and North Dakota are all in the top ten of American states in terms of per-pupil spending. Per the U.S Census Bureau, those states are in the top quintile, spending between $15-$20 thousand per student, per year. As to South Dakota? We're in the quintile that spends $8-$10 thousand. You can find that 2012 report at http://www.census.gov/govs/school/. This is ridiculous in terms of trying to get outsiders to move in to South Dakota with their investment capital and, more importantly, their families.
Meantime, our younger teachers are expected work for less than $40k/year when those aforementioned states have salaries that range from $10k-$20k/yr more. Not too surprisingly, I know of young teachers who live in the Black Hills and commute to jobs in Wyoming for the much better pay. This is a problem that shouldn't be neglected if South Dakotans care about their greatest resource, young people. I still hope Governor Daugaard rethinks the allocation of the state's windfall and directs it toward our schools and then sets in place a long-term plan to gradually increase South Dakota's financial commitment to our schools, getting our state to the point where we don't occupy such a squalid level on charts that show how much we spend on and care about public education