Governor Daugaard’s Weekly Column: Learning More About Education Funding

Learning More About Education Funding
A column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard:

DaugaardEvery 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.


8 thoughts on “Governor Daugaard’s Weekly Column: Learning More About Education Funding”

  1. One idea concerns the capital outlay funding. With the increase in property values, mainly ag land, in the last year, the capital outlay funds of many schools have skyrocketed. I know that in our district the levy has remained at 3% even though the capital outlay funds have grown greatly. I realize that we built a new gym and the funds are being used for that, but even so the monies going into capital outlay have greatly increased. At yesterday’s crackerbarrel it seemed that some concern had been raised and heard by legislators that the levy should be decreased if the monies going into the capital outlay fund had increased so greatly, but it didn’t seem that anyone at the local crackerbarrels voiced that concern. Here is a different idea. If the levy remains high while the capital outlay funds increase greatly, maybe some of those funds could be directed to teacher salaries in the form of bonuses while the capital outlay account was generating higher than average income, if the school board does not want to decrease the levy.

    There is evidently a program that forgives some of the student debt if a teacher teaches in a rural school setting, but I was surprised to learn that the “rural” includes our city. I do not think that our city should be classified as “rural” because it already pays better than surrounding small towns and it is not easy to get into teaching in our city, i.e. no shortage of teachers for the most part.

    One of the reasons that “‘rural” settings have difficulty recruiting teachers is that if married, it is hard for the spouse to find employment in a small town, and many times both spouses need to or want to work outside the home. I don’t know the answer to this.

    At our crackerbarrel there was concern raised about teacher pay and the teacher shortage. Some stated that education funding is down from years ago. At least one person in the audience had the courage to state that family income peaked in 2011 and has been going downhill since then for most everyone, not just teachers. And no one in SD is getting rich; it’s not just teachers but it’s almost everyone’s salaries have stagnated.

  2. One complaint I have heard from a lot of corners is the amount of money spent on special education, how it is draining resources needed for other students, and many recipients are simply getting their diapers changed and tracheostomies suctioned until they turn 18 and the education stops. I was informed yesterday that Madison had actually discontinued the program for gifted students.

    This made me think of the contrast in health care, in the neurological rehabilitation setting. Funded by insurance companies, not politicians, neuro rehab ends when the patient is no longer making progress. Once the patient ceases to show improvement, he is discharged. That’s it. It sounds heartless, but it frees up funding for the patients who continue to show improvement past the customary end date.

    1. State’s responsibility ends at 18 years of age ?

      I don’t think so. IDEA, a federal law, mandates that public schools are to “educate” students until they graduate or turn 21.

      That includes special ed students.

  3. Combine the ever-rising costs of special ed, we have our own boneheaded legislators who though it was a good idea to mandate school attendance until age 18.

  4. Why not have a 5 year study before we do anything? That way we should really have all the facts by then. 1 year Blue Ribbon Panel is simply not enough time.

  5. Another study? Maybe we need a study to determine why we always need so many studies.

    And maybe the answer is to not rely so heavily upon local property taxes to fund education. Where is the state? Maybe the answer is also to pay teachers more…. If you pay them they will come….

    But what do I know, maybe I need to study this some more …… 😉

  6. “Maybe the answer is also to pay teachers more…. If you pay them they will come….”

    Yes, you need to study that more.

    Better teacher pay does not translate into better teachers or better student achievement.

    No need to study it anymore.

    1. No, but it might attract teachers to teacher in the “Timbuktu” regions of the state, however.

      It would also attract talent to the education field who currently are pursing other professions because of greater income potential (I thought DWCers were primarily capitalist…?…My mistake…?..)

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