Learning More About Education Funding
A column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard:
Every year, when the Legislature meets, education is discussed and debated as much as any other topic. That’s the way it should be. South Dakota spends approximately half of our general fund budget on education, because we understand that it is a priority for our state.
Very often, debates about education focus on funding. That makes sense, because funding is the principal way that state government affects schools. Local officials decide how many teachers and staff to hire, and what to pay them. They decide which programs and courses to offer. But they make those decisions in the context of available funding.
Still, the focus on funding can draw attention away from the broader discussion – our policy goals for education in South Dakota. I believe that we have three goals: First, we want a quality system of schools focused on student achievement. Second, we want a workforce of great educators. Finally, we want an efficient, equitable funding system that supports those goals.
More funding may be the answer to achieving those goals, but we have a responsibility to the taxpayers to be certain that we are spending their dollars wisely. We need confidence that our state funding system for K-12 schools is aligned with those three goals.
That is why I am joining with legislative leaders to create a Blue Ribbon Task Force on Teachers and Students. This task force will reevaluate the current funding formula. It will collect and analyze data, engage with stakeholders and seek public input. The task force will make recommendations to the 2016 State Legislature for reform.
I know that some will say that, rather than establish a task force, we should take action now. But there are still too many questions that need to be answered.
We need to understand where teacher shortages are occurring and what can be done to address them. We need to ask why 12 states can spend less per student than South Dakota, yet pay their teachers more. We need to ask why, even as we hear growing concerns about teacher salaries, many schools’ reserve funds are increasing.
These questions need to be answered with hard data, not anecdotes or opinion surveys, and I have asked the Department of Education to compile hard data on the teaching workforce and on school funding to inform the work of the task force.
Three years ago, I joined with the Chief Justice and legislative leaders to initiate a year-long review of the criminal justice system. That process took on a difficult issue and resulted in a sweeping reform package that passed with broad support. This year, the Legislature is considering a similar reform package of the juvenile justice system, which is also the product of a year-long process.
We are bringing that same successful process to the issue of school funding. South Dakotans want a quality education for every student, and we want great teachers to provide that education. Through this process, we can gain confidence that our state funding system is focused on achieving these important goals.