PIERRE, S.D. – Supporters of public education in South Dakota hope the state’s brighter revenue picture means legislators will focus on schools and provide the financial resources to help them thrive.
State law says aid for schools must increase annually by the rate of inflation, which currently is about 2%. Nonetheless, Gov. Kristi Noem has proposed no increase for schools for the coming year.
South Dakota Education Association president Mary McCorkle said a half-cent sales tax passed by residents in 2016 boosted funding, but it needs to be sustained.
“So, every time we don’t fund according to the requirement that’s in statute, we do fall further behind,” she said. “So, it’s about teacher salaries, but it’s really about funding our schools and making sure that our students have what they need.”
After an 8% funding cut following the Great Recession, the money was not replaced. McCorkle said when school districts are forced to make choices due to lack of funding, they’re often poor choices for students and communities. The revenue available to legislators is now about $19 million more than the original projection, making the total available budget about $5 billion.
The state’s Education Association also wants lawmakers to defeat Senate Bill 147, which aims to eliminate collective bargaining for higher-education employees. A similar bill was defeated two years ago. Some have argued that the change would allow universities to be more nimble, but McCorkle said like K-through-12, salaries for college professors haven’t kept up with other states, and not giving those employees a voice can create a negative environment.
“If you can’t retain high-quality professors and provide them with certainty in their research, in their employment, in their tenure track,” she said, “how are you going to attract quality people?”
The SDEA also is asking lawmakers to change the eligibility date for entering kindergarten, from Sept. 1 to Aug. 1, so children are five years old when they start school. McCorkle said the change would help ensure that kids are prepared academically, and show more social and emotional readiness.