South Dakota teacher salaries are the worst in the nation.

Wait, wait, don't turn the page! I know that's been the headline for over a decade (can anyone tell me when South Dakota teacher pay was not 51st in the nation?).

But we need to understand, as parents, as taxpayers, as stakeholders in a competitive public school system, just how far behind South Dakota is in paying teachers what the national market says they are worth.

The National Education Association estimates and ranks the states on various data for the 2010&ndash2011 school year. Turn to Summary Table H, p. 92. You will learn that here in South Dakota, where there was no recession, teacher salaries during the just-completed school year dropped 9.36%, $3,636, to an average of $35,201. That's 63% of the $56,069 average value the national market assigns to public school teachers.

Let's be clear: South Dakota's risible $35,201 is not the average salary coming under the Daugaard-Olson budget cuts. The 9.36% salary drop happened last year, when Governor Rounds and the 2010 Legislature merely reneged on promised budget increases. I'm afraid to look....

South Dakota schools appear to have saved a lot of money last year by replacing a big chunk of retirees with a lot of new teachers down at the bottom of the salary scale. But every state has lots of baby-boomer teachers on the verge of retirement. We'd expect to see a similar pay decrease elsewhere, as young teachers replace old nationwide.

However, South Dakota's 9.36% teacher salary decrease in the 2010&ndash2011 school year was completely anomalous. Florida's average teacher pay dropped $6. Three states held teacher pay flat. Nearly every other state managed to squeeze out a 1% to 3% increase in average teacher pay. South Carolina's teacher pay went up 4%.

As usual, I expect folks will say that South Dakota's low cost of living makes up for low wages. As usual, I offer hard data to utterly refute that wishful thinking:

State Avg teacher pay 2010&ndash11 Cost of Living 2010 Q4 (US = 100) Avg. teacher pay adjusted for cost of living Regional Price Parity 2005&ndash9 Avg. teacher pay adjusted for RPP
SD $35,201 98.53 $35,726 83.8 $42,006
ND $44,266 95.91 $46,154 84.5 $52,386
MN $53,215 102.23 $52,054 95.6 $55,664
IA $50,634 93.98 $53,877 87.1 $58,133
NE $47,521 91.09 $52,169 88 $54,001
WY $57,328 98.66 $58,107 93.8 $61,117
MT $47,132 100 $47,132 92.2 $51,119

North Dakota has the second-lowest teacher pay in the nation. North Dakota still finds over $9,000 more for each of its teachers than we do. Factor in cost of living (third and fourth columns in the table), and North Dakota teachers pull $2000 more ahead of ours in purchasing power. By the same data, the average teacher salary in the God-forsaken income-taxing Socialist People's Republic of Minnesota has 46% more purchasing power than South Dakota's.

Things look a little rosier if we work with Regional Price Parity data from 2005 to 2009 (fifth and sixth columns). This statistic shows South Dakotans getting the most bang for their bucks in the nation. An average South Dakota teacher salary adjusted for RPP has the national equivalent of $42,006 in purchasing power. But that still leaves us $9,000 behind Montana, $10,000 behind North Dakota, and worse behind our other neighbors.

The economic judgment here is clear: No one else in America values teachers less than South Dakotans do.