For over a decade, South Dakota has seen more of its new education graduates accepting employment outside the state than remaining. Also noticing are the state’s college and
university governing bodies, who, while not dictating, are desirous that
education programs are promoting or otherwise enticing graduates to remain in
This is a tall order, as in 2016, state public school administrators reported that 30% of positions uncharacteristically remained open in late May, with vacancies widespread and representing all areas. Unfortunately, the state’s average salary of $39,000 (the U.S. average is $59,000) and its subsequent national last-place ranking remain the top reason cited by graduates and newly-hired employees seeking employment elsewhere.
However, in March 2016, South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard approved HB 1182, increasing the state’s sales tax from 4 percent to 4.5 percent, the first since 1969. Of the additional revenue, 85% was intended for salary augmentation by raising the average educator 2016-2017 wage to $48,500, and the state’s ranking to 43rd. Still, this remains lower than the average salaries of all South Dakota’s neighboring states.
Initial expectations of 15% raises, or approximately $6500 per educator, immediately receivedwere quickly dashed by learning enhancements were averages rather than mandates, and intended as a long-term program. Funding is also dependent upon maintaining fewer teachers, difficult in a state already facing severe shortages.
Perhaps most troublesome is the state’s individual districts determining distributions, creating funding inconsistencies among educators and weakening the claim of state-wide salary increases. Such disparities include the varying definition of “educator”, resulting in some counselors, speech therapists, school nurses, librarians, et al. receiving additional compensation and others not. Some districts are waiving standard raises for all, favoring better compensating new hires and beginning educators rather than those more experienced. Further, districts may select to greater remunerate those having larger classes, more individual preps, subjects perceived as difficult hires (math, science), in more rural areas, or schools offering fewer facilities, with all already contentious issues.
However, particularly ominous in an already graying state concerns benefits; while health insurance had been previously covered, some teachers are now required to pay part of these costs. Such contributions are expensive and potentially detrimental to those with existing, or future, health complications.
Of course, salary is not the single element attracting, or retaining, individuals to teaching; working conditions, facilities, professional development, resources, and more are also important. Still, there are many affirmations; South Dakota educators are enthusiastic the state has acted to improve salaries, indicating education and its educators are valuable, graduates seeking employment or those planning relocation may reconsider, and post-secondary educators can positively address salaries, long problematic. Further, the Department of Education estimates 15 of 150 districts have reached the intended salary.
Although too new for data regarding recruitment and retention effectiveness, if continued with district augmentations applied strategically, including faculty awareness and input, this program appears beneficial and uplifting to South Dakota’s educators.