And I wonder if they can make the connection between SD's support for public education and SD's economic growth rate. You can find the story by going to the RCJ's home page and clicking on it here. The picture shows how laughably low our teacher salaries are compared to those of the surrounding states. If you want an even more graphic and perhaps more meaningful glance at the situation, take a gander at this ad for an on-line consortium of colleges that makes note of South Dakota's abysmal teaching salaries. As if to underscore the situation, in the RCJ piece, Rapid City Area Schools Superintendent Tim Mitchell notes that "we are losing our best and brightest because of our inability to be competitive."
Probably the most aggravating aspect of the RCJ piece is the Governor's (via his spokesman Tony Venhuizen) lame and cloyingly predictable response to the story. Venhuizen says that, as with other fields, "the salary is lower if you don't adjust for the fact that we have very low taxes and the lowest cost of living." Please, Mr. Venhuizen. Given that teaching salary differentials between South Dakota and our neighboring states vary between 20% and 40%, you cannot possibly expect anyone to believe that living in South Dakota costs that much less than living in, say, Wyoming, where teachers earn a full 45% more than their counterparts in this ultra-generous (Not!) state of ours. If you want to compare home prices between the states, you'll find that they're quite similar across the board by navigating this site. As to taxes, Wyoming, like South Dakota, has neither an individual nor a corporate income tax. Are we to believe that differences between sales and property taxes in Wyoming and South Dakota amount to a 45% differential in costs-of-living? Hardly. That our public officials can push the cost-of-living case with this kind of information staring into their faces is astonishingly incomprehensible. I expect Governor Daugaard and his spokesman Venhuizen to apologize to their constituents for insulting our collective intelligence.
Meantime, talking about collective, I'm wondering why the collective reps in the SD legislature are spending an inordinate amount of time on Common Core standards for our schools when the real debates about education in South Dakota should be about elevating the state's support for teachers and students. On that last front, I noted here a few weeks ago that South Dakota is at or near the bottom quintile of American states in per-pupil spending, in contrast to 5 of our adjacent states, all of which are in the top quintile. You can find a graphic (good through 2010, the year before Governor Daugaard's draconian cuts in education funding) that lays this out here. The differentials are 20%-40%, consistent with the differentials in teacher salary. Nothing against debating curriculum standards, but shouldn't we be more pressingly concerned with the spending disparities in our support for schools during this era of ultra-competitive economic environments? How competitive does South Dakota look with its 8th worst rankings by Education Week for schools in the United States (which you can find here)? Can you just feel the stampede of businesses and skilled workers storming to move their assets and families here? Honestly.
Our elected officials must simply snap out of this trance-like fixation on economic development at the expense of our public schools. A great public education system, K-college, is the foundation of a great society. And, really, isn't a commitment to schools one of the most important selling points for a state that seeks every avenue of outside capital, both human and monetary, for sustaining economic growth? I certainly hope the frustration I'm feeling is common to many South Dakotans, enough so that some political energy gets directed at responding to it. If this isn't a talking point for every campaign emerging ahead of next Fall's elections, it should be.