Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Blue Ribbon Task Force On Education Report Just Came Out. Save The Drum Rolls.

     The State of South Dakota Blue Ribbon Task Force On Teachers And Students was
How We Stack Down
As Yucky Now As We Were In '13
(graphic from
convened by Governor Daugaard this year as a way of coming up with solutions for our state's ongoing teacher salary problem, which is widely regarded to have evolved into a crisis.  
BRTF came out with its final report yesterday, claiming in its cover letter to be a "bold" set of recommendations.  On review, the result seems to be a fairly pedestrian recapitulation of the obvious, without much in the way of conclusions or recommendations that seem to be particularly "bold." That doesn't make them irrelevant, of course, nor does it mean that the time and effort of those engaged is unappreciated. I offer a big "thank you" to those engaged. I understand and think BRTF had to work within the parameters of political and economic reality, which precluded them from thinking outside the box of the possible
, and as we all know, politics is indeed "the art of the possible."
     Leadership, however, is the art of the possibilities. On that score, the task force report is disappointing and disheartening.  It's disappointing because even though it correctly calls attention to the wage gap between SD teachers and their counterparts in surrounding states, it doesn't understand that the crisis is focused on what kind of teachers we'll have in coming generations if the only applicants for SD jobs are those who are sub-qualified to work in places with higher wages.  We could have an entire generation of teachers who are here only because they aren't good enough to get better paying work elsewhere.  This is the crisis.  As to disheartening, BRTF's "Recommendations for New Funding for Teacher Salaries" (about $75 million/year) are limited to a) using "existing funds to the greatest extent possible," and b) increasing "the state sales and use tax for additional ongoing revenue."  
     There are ways of generating revenues for schools that don't rely on what is probably the politically impossible effort to raise sales taxes.  Overhauling the sales tax exemption list  which in 2013 had nearly $600 million worth of special interest  exemptions could have some productive results. Nearly 2/3 of them fall into the business--not agricultural--category.  If you scan the list provided in my link you'll see that a lot of these seem to have no purpose other than protecting select businesses from having to charge sales taxes because . . . well, you'd have to ask somebody other than
BRTF Meeting, Final Report In
Solution Is Still A Work In Progress
(photo from

me.  Plenty of them just make no sense. On another front, Rapid Citian Stan Adelstein makes a compelling argument for a fairer application of property taxes (he says statewide that $78 million would accrue to SD school districts as a result) in South Dakota. Stan's case is a good one and needs to be considered. Another possibility is the collection of corporate income taxes for those businesses making substantially more than a typical family-run operation, using net income starting at a threshhold of say, several hundred thousand dollars, as a point where earnings become taxable. Considering that these businesses probably depend on a well-educated South Dakota workforce in order to survive, I'd see their tax liability as more  of an investment than an  expense.  An analysis by the State of South Dakota on just how much revenue could be raised by such a tax would be nice. I'm confident that the result would be in the millions.  
     No doubt some creative approaches that I haven't even thought about exist.  Despite its lack of "boldness," the BRTF's final report makes for a good springboard from which some movement can materialize. To see "bold" happen, we next turn to Governor Daugaard for some leadership on this.  


  1. Excuse me while I choke. The last time Governor Daugaard was asked to show leadership on education, he cut the education budget by 10% and declared himself great for doing it.

  2. Another great column John. I agree with Eve. Daugaard has never really shown any leadership-especially on education. If I'm not mistaken Daugaard didn't even mention education in his state of the state address.
    Whatever method of funding, if any, is used, it has to be earmarked for teacher salaries. The lottery money was supposed to go to schools, but didn't.

  3. The BRTF was just a smart sounding way for the Governor to kick the can down the road one more year. An even more creative dodge will have to be developed for this year.

    Nick Nemec