Thursday, December 4, 2014

Governor Daugaard Needs To Connect Some Dots. A Great School System Begets A Great Workforce. My Column In Yesterday's Rapid City Journal:

                                     Photo from the Rapid City Area Schools Website                                                                                         
       What we spend on education in this state is just plain deplorable.  Not only are we among  the bottom 10 states in per pupil spending (according to the Census Bureau), consider this:  we’re not even close to Iowa, which spends the least of all the states bordering South Dakota.  At $10 thousand/pupil, Iowa ranks 27th in the country. At South Dakota’s measly $8.4 thousand/pupil, we rank 41st. Meantime Wyoming spends an astounding $16 thousand/pupil, nearly twice what we do here in the land of infinite penuriousness.                                                                                                        Disappointingly, yesterday’s budget address by Governor Daugaard, upping education expenditures by 2%, won’t improve those numbers.  Based on them, it should come as no surprise that we rank last in the country in teacher salaries. More problematically, South Dakota’s glaring indifference to its lowly position in student spending and achievement (this year Education Week ranks us 42nd in K-12 achievement, while our surrounding neighbors are at least one quintile higher, with Minnesota ranking in the top ten--see page 7 of the link) must pose a barrier to individuals seeking a high-quality home for themselves and their families.    
     That’s why I believe there’s some serious economic and sociological spillover to consider. Per a Drexel University study (using Census Bureau data) on South Dakota labor markets released this year,  our state during the past several years  has been a net importer of migrants with high school diplomas and less, a net exporter of those with bachelor’s degrees and more, to the tune of about a 6% differential in both cases.   
     You can see why there is good reason for Governor Daugaard  to have made 2014 a year in which he vowed to address our chronic skilled and educated workforce shortage.  His highly touted “workforce summits” attempted to come up with some ideas to alleviate the situation, but it seems that Daugaard has been overlooking the obvious, at least on the quality-of-life front.  Our schools just don’t measure up, at leastin toto
     This week Governor Daugaard began addressing this issue again.  Yesterday he unfortunately failed to connect the dots between a great education system and a great workforce.  In fact, the Governor’s proposed 2% increase in school spending actually fell short of last year’s, which was 3%. 
     While it’s true that the state’s 30% share of per-pupil spending means that Daugaard’s  best efforts at increasing state support won’t be enough to get South Dakota into competitive balance with our neighbors, we should expect more from the Governor, both in money and leadership.   We need a commitment from  Daugaard to lead by example, i.e. more money, and from his pulpit, i.e., more urgency.  His response to the state’s labor shortage were those highly publicized “workforce summits” of 2014, which I believe will prove to be of marginal value. I’d have much more faith in the success of a series of “education summits” as a solution to that problem.  Why?  Because I think a world-class education system is the best way to keep and get skilled and educated workers and their families into this state.  Our neighbors in Minnesota have that one figured out.  Why haven’t we?                                         


  1. John

    I read your article is the Journal with interest and found your data contrasts with research that I have done in the past. The National Education Association has put out research on education funding for years that ranks SD in the mid 30’s for total student funding the last report ranks SD at 36. they also rank SD at 51st in teacher pay.

    I have also noted in the past that the General Fund Balance for SD schools continues to increase, so while schools continue to pound the table with we need more money they also continue to put more of it into savings. In 2004 the general fund savings fund balance was $144 million and it increased for 8 years running even during the years education funding was cut to $244 million until last year when the balance dropped for the first time in to $235 million.

    We both agree that teacher salaries have to be dealt with but Pierre currently does not control local school district salary policy. More money to local districts has not resulted in higher salaries but increased savings accounts. So unless Pierre starts to wrest more control from local districts the pressure to increase teacher pay has to be placed on the local district, not the governor.

    Mike Buckingham

    1. Thanks for the info, Mr. Buckingham. I provided links to the Census Bureau and Education Week achievement rankings in the post above, both of them reported in 2014. Not sure how the discrepancy between NEA and Census Bureau rankings comes about, but they're not that far apart and both show plenty of room for improvement. I note in the piece that given the state's share of funding is about 30% (55% is local, 15% comes from federal sources, roughly calculated from my Census Bureau link), that direct help from Pierre is limited given current revenue sources. However, I stand by my belief that the Governor needs to show some leadership on this. Other revenue sources can be found, particularly by going through the sales tax exemption list (which is the subject of my next post), as well as getting your point about local decision-making across to South Dakotans. This really does need to be a statewide effort, not a district by district venture. Thanks for commenting.