Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Face It. We Have To Start Paying Up For Teachers.

      What is it about the law of supply-and-demand that eludes those who shrug off South
SD State Rep Greenfield
Markets?  What Do They Know?
(photo from sodakliberty.com)
Dakota's teacher shortage as part of a national trend that can't be resolved by raising teacher salaries in this state?
Probably the most visible and influential purveyor of this misinformed view of how markets work is Republican Lana Greenfield, who represents District 2 in the South Dakota state legislature. Referring to our state's shortage of teachers, Greenfield last year told the Watertown Public Opinion that "higher pay for teachers isn't necessarily the answer because states with higher pay also have a shortage."  She goes on to say that South Dakota needs to promote its assets as a great place to raise a family in our quest to compete against other states for teachers.  

     That last part is pretty tough to take seriously--if it isn't laughable altogether--because of its ego-centric assumption that our surrounding states compare unfavorably to South Dakota when it comes to lifestyle advantages. South Dakota has a lot of great things going for it, but that hasn't made us much of a magnet for people who can accept some of the lowest wages in the country in exchange for "clean air and healthy living," as Greenfield put it.  More to the point, Greenfield can't possibly quantify the market value of our great lifestyle as a complement to the lowest teacher pay in the country. The whole idea is just plain absurd.
     More troubling is the idea that just because there's a national teacher shortage, South Dakota shouldn't make every effort to raise wages to competitive levels.   As Greenfield put it last week in her comments to a recent KELO-TV story on the subject, "we cannot attract people who do not exist."  She was retorting to some comments made on the KELO site by my good friend Cory Heidelberger, whose Dakota Free Press remains the best political blog in South Dakota. Greenfield's exasperation about how to deal with the matter is understandable, but she misses the point about how South Dakota must respond to a marketplace that has suddenly put a premium on the shrinking supply of teachers.
     By refusing to jump into the fray of bidding higher for a shortage of teachers, as Greenfield would have it, South Dakota is effectively abandoning that market altogether. Greenfield's constituents in the farm commodity-driven economy of the district she represents understand what it means to be forced to bid higher in a bull market when short supplies are much in demand.
This is how markets ration those supplies.  Those potential buyers who refuse to join the bidding frenzy are simply leaving themselves out of the competition, resigned to doing without.  That effectively is what South Dakota would be accomplishing by taking Greenfield's approach, which
Yep, Our Lifestyle Will Sure Bridge These Gaps
Could We Be Any More Self-Delusional?
(photo from www.argusleader.com)
would be a disaster because  what is now a shortage could evolve into the equivalent of a famine.
     South Dakota cannot simply walk away from this market under the delusion that its lifestyle is enough to attract quality teachers.  Not to denigrate teachers by calling them a commodity, but to give an example of how market reality can bite, General Mills and other food processors can't stop buying wheat at premium prices during a bad crop year unless they want to go out of business altogether.  We're in the same boat in SD.  We just have to accept the reality of the market and pay up.  I did this in real life for twenty years, both in the trading pits in Chicago and as a broker out here.  Believe me, it's no fun when markets get away from you on the upside and you have to pay more than you'd like--but that's just the way it is. 
     Meantime, there is a significant advantage built into "the way it is." If the laws of supply and demand apply to the teacher supply situation, and there's no reason to believe they won't, higher wages will likely result in more people entering the profession in the first place, increasing the pool of qualified teachers and doing much to alleviate this all too obvious shortage we're struggling with.   
     We can pretend our lifestyle advantages will make up the difference when our salaries are woefully uncompetitive, or we can face facts.   


  1. William F. Buckley developed the perfect bon mot in this circumstance: "I won’t insult your intelligence by suggesting that you really believe what you just said." Ms. Greenfield should thank her lucky stars he's long since passed from the Vail of Tears.

  2. One difference from the commodity argument is I don't think any state, district, or school wants to be competing to hire the next/last "bushel" of lowest common denomination teachers.

    The schools I send my kids to, or that will be producing my future employees and customers and doctors and lawyers and such, better be hiring the best mix of high to mid-quality teachers possible.

    Anything less is throwing our kids' futures down the drain.

    1. Good point, OMBG, which is why I was careful to make sure that I didn't compare teachers to commodities and just wanted to give a summary of how markets work. Higher wages will probably create a large enough pool of teachers to make quality a factor in hiring decisions.

  3. Rep. Greenfield, SD Teachers have been going backward for the last 10 years or so. I suggest you look at the facts. Some of the facts are also that many of our teacher graduates, at public and private colleges, are leaving the state to teach else where. Two teachers from Tyndall left for about $15,000+ increase between the two of them (and they will probably live in SD and still enjoy SD). I would suggest you get into the real world of education in SD. I retired in 2011, last year I was offered a job in Nebraska that would have paid me $10,000 more than what I was making when I retired. I would have had to drive about 40 miles a day. I have former students that will not teach in SD and I, in all honesty, cannot ask them to come back to lower pay and a state that does not appreciate what they have (or had). Paul Harens, Yankton, SD

  4. The saddest detail that was not included in this article or its quotes is that Ms. Greenfield herself is a retired teacher.

  5. Ms. greenfield might be a former teacher but now she is :toeing/following the line: laid out by the SD GOP.