Chuck Clement reads the USDA's latest report on Farms and Land in Farms and finds South Dakota lost 300 farms last year. That's a return to the long-term trend that South Dakota was briefly bucking: fewer farms, bigger operations.

37 states lost farms. 10 states held steady. Delaware, Nevada, and Wyoming added farms.

If we heard that South Dakota had lost 300 manufacturers, or 300 car dealers, or 300 construction contractors, we might hear some alarm. But hey, South Dakota has the same amount of land (43.3 million acres) in farms, 3% more cattle on feed, 4% more hogs and pigs, and more farms in the million-plus-value class. More machines, fewer Democrats—as long as the GDP numbers look good, what's there to fret about?

By the way, hired farm hands in the Northern Plains region (South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa) earn 17% more than the national average and 17% more than neighbors in the Lake Region (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan). We can pay hired hands more than the national average, but not teachers.


South Dakota ranks 39th for expenditures per K-12 student but 51st for teacher pay.

I have heard Republican legislators respond to questions about teacher pay with that statistical comparison at both crackerbarrels that I have attended this month. Governor Daugaard cited this fact in response to questions about teacher pay during 2014 campaign debates at Dakotafest and the State Fair.

South Dakota Republicans cite these figures because they know they are running out of excuses for valuing South Dakota teachers less than every other state does. Legislators and the Governor offer these numbers to distract us from the state's inaction in the face of the growing teacher shortage, divert blame from the Legislature to local school districts for keeping money from teachers, and excuse the Governor's Blue Ribbon Stalling Tactic.

While the SDGOP's motives for peddling the 39th/51st comparison are nefarious, the question merits some discussion. But the South Dakota Budget and Policy Institute (looking at data that ranks us 41st, not 39th, in per-student spending) spares us another summer study and explains that we outspend a few other states for smaller class sizes:

South Dakota averages 13.7 pupils per teacher. Although South Dakota’s class size is slightly higher than its neighbors, its cost per student for instruction is lower because we have much lower teacher salaries. With a constant class size only OK has lower instructional cost per student than SD

The nine states that have lower instructional costs than South Dakota all have larger classroom sizes, ranging from 14.7 in Texas to 22.8 in Utah.

If the classroom sizes in these nine states were comparable to South Dakota’s classroom size (13.7), the per-student-instructional cost would be higher in every state except Oklahoma [Joy Smolnisky, "Instructional Cost Per Student in South Dakota," South Dakota Budget and Policy Project, 2015.02.06].

Smaller class sizes are worth spending some money. Smaller class sizes are also unavoidable in smaller districts where fluctuations from grade to grade may have the lone fourth-grade teacher working with sixteen kids one year and just eight the next. Check the expenditure-per-student data for South Dakota schools, and you'll see most of the big spenders are smaller districts, while most of the big districts (which can more easily smooth out fluctuating student populations across classrooms) are on the lower end of the expenditure rankings.

Mitchell superintendent Joe Graves was hinting at the class size issue last week when he proposed solving the teacher shortage by getting rid of more public school teachers. If they have to pay teachers more, South Dakota Republicans would love to do it by paying fewer teachers.

K-12 class sizes and per-student expenditures, South Dakota vs. region, South Dakota Budget and Policy Project, 2015.02.06.

K-12 class sizes and per-student expenditures, South Dakota vs. region, South Dakota Budget and Policy Project, 2015.02.06.

South Dakota class sizes are in the middle of the regional range, yet all of our neighbors spend more per student and per teacher. In similar conditions, our neighbors raise more public money for their students and place a higher value on the service their teachers provide.

Over the last decade, states have provided 43% to 49% of funding for K-12 education, with local governments shouldering just a few percentage points less of that burden. In South Dakota, the state picks up closer to 30% of the tab for K-12 education. Maybe local districts have a little more control over capital outlay levies and can at least spend to maintain their facilities, but Pierre is choking off the general fund dollars they need to pay their teachers competitive wages.

SDBPI notes that since 2004, South Dakota has dedicated less of its general fund expenditures to K-12 education. In 2004, the state spent 37% of its general fund on K-12 education. In 2014, the state spent 27% of its general fund on K-12 education.

We do not need a summer study to understand the problem. Our per-student expenditures are inflated by slightly better student-teacher ratios. Smooth that factor out, and our teacher pay is still rock-bottom, due to the state abdicating its commitment to K-12 education. With those facts in our hands, the only reasons for a summer study are delay, distraction, and a desire to drive more teachers out of South Dakota.


Mitchell school superintendent Dr. Joseph Graves admits that he's ambivalent about Governor Dennis Daugaard's proposed summer study of education... which, for a guy who has flacked for the Governor's worst policy whims, could be read as stern condemnation.

But I'm not fooled. Graves cocks an eyebrow at the summer study, then returns to his usual form of giving us darn teachers both barrels. Check out the ink Graves devotes to thinking up ways to make sure that, even if we decide we can pay teachers more, we sure as heck won't pay more teachers:

Alternatively, there may be other options for increasing average teacher compensation levels other than the straightforward and endlessly offered by educators and their lobbyists: give the schools more so they can pay teachers more. If schools, for example, were to present more online coursework and more virtual offerings, costs would decline and current revenues could be used to enhance teacher pay. If the state were to offer tax incentives for parents enrolling their children in private schools or homeschooling their progeny, the resulting savings from more parents choosing such alternatives could be used to increase the per pupil support of students who remained in traditional classrooms [Joseph Graves, "Don't Meet Me in the Middle," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2015.02.16].

Online classes make costs decline by allowing schools to cut teachers from the payroll. Ditto Dr. Graves's private/homeschool scenario: incentivize draining public school enrollment, force public schools to lay off teachers, then split the savings between the remaining public school teachers and the ongoing subsidies for largely religious education. Graves is simply roadmapping a plan to increase pay for fewer teachers and further weaken one of the few bastions of labor power and intellectual opposition in South Dakota. It's policy dreck but political genius.

But since teachers like me call his proposal dreck, Graves says we're to blame for political resistance to higher teacher pay:

Yet educators don't typically endorse such proposals, leaving us open to the criticism that we endorse only the idea of giving us more money with no changes in how we do things and no rules on how we spend it. This view of educators is reinforced by the fact that we have had our hands out to the Legislature, demanding more money, every year since Dakota was a territory [Graves, 2015.02.16].

I'm curious, Dr. Graves: what do we have to change to justify our continual requests not to be last in the nation in teacher pay? What extra work do teachers do in Minnesota, Iowa, Wyoming, and Montana to earn more pay than teachers in South Dakota? What new rules must we adopt from every other state in the country that would finally warrant pay parity?

So is that image of our state's educators as woe-is-me mendicants due to the fact that we are starving, or because we are mulish monoliths refusing to engage in more efficient means of serving students? [Graves, 2015.02.16]

Short answer, Joe: we are starving. If your long alternative were correct, we would have to accept that we monolithic mules have been uniquely wasteful for our state's entire history, and that our Legislature and school boards have responded not by rooting out that waste and hiring good, efficient teachers but by simply depressing teachers wages to the lowest level in the nation. In Graves's excuse-iverse, South Dakota's leaders must be more interested in standing in the mud whipping their mules than in buying good horses and getting to town.

Dr. Graves wants to address the teacher shortage by getting rid of teachers. I unambivalently reject his plan and mulishly stick my own: fix the teacher shortage by paying teachers more.


The South Dakota Senate is on its way to agreeing with the House that the primary cause of shortages of teachers and other workers is low pay. Yesterday, Senate Appropriations approved Senate Bill 170, which would raise legislator pay from $6,000 to $10,000 a year. Former legislator Frank Kloucek went to Pierre to say, "Don't do it!" but the committee voted 6–2 to embrace the simple economic logic voiced by SB 170 sponsor Senator Craig Tieszen (R-34/Rapid City):

Sen. Craig Tieszen said his proposal is designed to make it easier for residents to make it to Pierre. He said some people don't run for office because the pay is too low.

"I think we're at a point where it makes it hard for some people to serve," he said [James Nord, "SD Senate Panel Approves Measure to Hike Legislator Salaries," AP via Rapid City Journal, 2015.02.12].

Senator Tieszen's majority leader, Sen. Tim Rave (R-25/Baltic) agrees that we must pay people more to get them to take tough jobs:

Senate Majority Leader Tim Rave, a Republican from Baltic, said he's watched it become more and more difficult to recruit candidates over his 13 years in office. The Legislature typically is in session from mid-January to mid-March. They have one day at the end of March to consider vetoes.

Whether or not the bill passes — similar proposals have failed in the past — Rave said the issue "needs to be brought to the limelight" [Nord, 2015.02.12].

The House has passed three bills to put more money in legislators' pockets, on the argument that low pay deters candidates from entering the field.

So tell me again, Governor Daugaard, why do we need a Blue Ribbon Task Force to figure out why South Dakota is running out of teachers, when your own Legislature seems to understand that we solve workforce shortages by raising pay?


The House State Affairs Committee voted unanimously yesterday to pass three bills that could put more money in legislators' pockets. Are raises for teachers next?

House Bill 1145 would give legislators the per diem reimbursement (currently $123) for attending the Governor's budget address in December and the inauguration in January. (I have a separate post on that bill coming up!) House Bill 1149 doesn't raise legislator pay, but it adds the words "at least" before the "six thousand dollars" that SDCL 2-4-2 sets as the legislative salary, opening the door for raises. House Bill 1150 would add legislators to the list of elected officials who automatically get the same pay raise as other state employees.

Rep. Jim Bolin (R-16/Canton), primary sponsor of HB 1149 and HB 1150, said in his testimony on HB 1149 that legislators haven't had a raise since 1998 and have one of the lowest legislative salaries in the nation. Rep. Bolin said that low pay limits the pool of people who can work in the Legislature to five small categories:

  1. farmers,
  2. young people with few family obligations,
  3. the independently wealthy,
  4. retirees, and
  5. folks with "a particular belief system" (might he mean ideologues?) who would serve no matter what the pay.

You realize, don't you, Rep. Bolin, that you basically wrote the speech for Senator Bernie Hunhoff to support his SJR 2 to raise South Dakota teacher pay?

No one in committee noted the analogy between low legislator pay and low teacher pay. Nor did anyone speak against the three legislative pay bills, but, following the swift and undisputed votes, a friend of a Facebook friend (who can have credit if that FFF wants it!) published this list of rebuttal points based on the excuses legislators give for not raising teacher pay:

  • They only work a few months out of the year and get summers off.
  • South Dakota has a low cost of living, so they don't need to be paid more.
  • South Dakota also has a high quality of life, so that should more than make up for the pay.
  • We don't have an income tax, so they need to take that into account.
  • If they don't like the salary, they should go legislate somewhere else.
  • We should only pay new legislators more money; the more tenured ones are already here.
  • Perhaps we need to link their pay to performance; have the citizens in the legislator's district take standardized tests, and if they do well, the legislator will be paid more [Facebook comment, 2015.02.04].

I support raising legislator pay. I would argue that Rep. Bolin doesn't go far enough. HB 1149 should double legislator pay to make up for the lost ground of the last seventeen raiseless years, just as Governor Daugaard says we should increase our gasoline tax, which has stayed flat and lost purchasing power since 1999.

Besides, I want HB 1149 and HB 1150 to pass so we can put Republicans on the record rejecting all of the arguments my FFF makes above and embracing the basic, common-sense economic arguments that support raising teacher pay. Having the lowest pay in the nation significantly limits our labor pool. Higher wages will draw more talent. House State Affairs knows that economic logic applies to their field; it shouldn't be hard now to convince them that economic logic applies to teaching as well.


A few legislators are trying to do something about South Dakota's teacher shortage and the low pay causing it.

Senator Tim Rave (R-25/Baltic) and Rep. Jacqueline Sly (R-33/Rapid City) propose Senate Bill 132, which authorizes school districts to offer signing bonuses, moving expenses, and tuition reimbursement. SB 132 also says that if another school or private employer tries to steal away one of its teachers with a higher salary, the school district may offer to match that salary. (Minnesota, expect a surge of South Dakota applicants.) SB 132 doesn't fund any of these incentives; it just tells school districts they can offer such deals unhindered by any collective bargaining agreement... because our Republican Legislature's world, low teacher pay must the union's fault.

A few more legislators, led by Rep. Tom Holmes (R-14/Sioux Falls), propose House Bill 1092, the paraprofessional promotion plan. We used to call them teacher's aides, whose job now is usually to work with kids in the special education classroom and accompany those special needs kids to the mainstream classrooms to help implement their individual education plans. Schools have more of these paras now, thanks to increasing demands for special ed services.

HB 1092 would give these paraprofessionals free tuition to get their teaching degrees and become full-time teachers. HB 1092 would support these promotions only in small schools, districts with total enrollment of 600 or less, that had a teaching position go unfilled in the previous year. Paras receiving the free tuition must sign a promise to teach in a qualifying district for five years.

I'm all for helping more people go to college, but I see three problems with HB 1092:

  1. What happens if a para enters the promotion program, and then her home school gets a lucky surge of applicants, has no teaching position go unfilled, and thus no longer qualifies. Or what if they get a little bump in enrollment and exceed the 600-student threshold? Could a para lose the tuition support halfway through her program due to a minor demographic shift? Would a para just two years through his job commitment have to go work at another qualifying district to avoid having to pay back tuition?
  2. While HB 1092 limits participation to 40 aspiring paras a year, it will shrink that labor pool. What will we do about the eventual paraprofessional shortage?
  3. HB 1092 will cost money, and legislators are already balking. The original bill appropriated $1.5 million. House Appropriations passed the bill last Friday, but not before they struck the funding provision.

Classroom veteran Rep. Jim Bolin (R-16/Canton) fields slightly more co-sponsors for his House Bill 1114, which requires schools carrying a general fund balance of 50% or higher to pay for their teachers' continuing education and the cost of renewing their teaching certificates. South Dakota teachers must renew their certificates every five years by taking six graduate credits. At $233.80 per credit and $36 renewal fee), HB 1114 could save teachers over $1,400. Spread those savings out over five years, and HB 1114 would save teachers an amount equal to less than 2% of the difference between what they make in South Dakota and what they could make in Minnesota.

And even for that meager benefit, HB 1114, like SB 132, does not fund its mandate.

Every dollar helps, but so far, none of these plans are putting new dollars on the table. SB 132 unnecessarily undermines what little union power teachers have left. HB 1092 helps paras get a raise but leaves teacher pay in the cellar. HB 1114 mandates that some local districts spend money that will help teachers but won't close any pay gap.

We're either going to need twenty more little plans... or one big plan that would actually solve the problem.


Todd Epp posts data on what it takes to be a member of the 1% in South Dakota—$404,010. That threshold for earning more than 99% of South Dakotans is higher than the national threshold of $380,000 and higher than in every adjoining state but Minnesota ($413,748) and North Dakota (boosted by oil barons to $502,393).

The numbers come from the Economic Policy Institute, which divides average income for one-percenters and average income for the rest of us and maps those ratios as measures of income inequality in each state:


(Click to embiggen!)


By that measure, South Dakota's hoi polloi are farther behind Sanford and friends than are the proletariat of every adjoining state other than North Dakota. The ratio of South Dakota's average one-percenter income to everyone else's is the 16th-highest in the nation.

If we compare the average salaries EPI calculates here with the average teacher salaries for 2012, South Dakota looks worse. Nationwide in 2012, the average teacher's salary was 29% higher than the average salary for the masses. Teachers are far from joining the one-percenters, but their training and work earn them higher-than average pay in 43 states and the District of Columbia. South Dakota is one of six places that deems teachers worth less than the average salary of the 99%:

  • In Colorado, teachers make 1% less than that average.
  • In Kansas, 1.7% less.
  • Nebraska, 5.2% less.
  • Virginia, 12.5% less.
  • South Dakota, 21.2% less.
  • North Dakota, 22.9% less.

These data dispute the response South Dakota's Republican lawmakers offer that low pay and workforce shortages aren't unique to the teaching profession, that everyone else gets lower pay as well in South Dakota. The average pay for the 99% in South Dakota ranks 14th in the nation. Our teacher pay ranks last, and our ratio of teacher pay to the 99%'s average pay is the second lowest in the nation.

From 2009 to 2012, income grew for South Dakota's one-percenters by 42.7%, the tenth-highest rich-getting-richer rate in the nation. Post-recession income for the rest of us grew 7.0%, the second-highest rate in the nation (thank you, corn!). South Dakota's 1% captured 53.4% of post-recession income growth; Minnesota's top hats captured 56.0% of that new income. Things could be worse: in seventeen states, the top 1% accounted for all income growth from 2009 to 2012—in other words, the rich got richer and the poor got poorer.

Remember, income inequality threatens economic opportunity and democracy. When wealth concentrates, power concentrates. Alexis de Tocqueville recognized this fact in what appears to have been the healthier democracy of 1830s America. If South Dakota wants democracy, it needs to find ways to share the wealth with teachers and all members of the 99% instead of letting the richest take more than half of the pie.


Patrick Anderson features my moonshot plan to raise teacher pay $10,000, to 34th in the nation, on the education e-pages of that Sioux Falls paper. My plan secures that monumental raise, around $92 million a year spread among about 9,200 K-12 teachers, by lifting 16% of the $582 million in sales tax exemptions the state grants to favored goods and services.

Actually, let's update that: The Governor's proposed budget for FY2016 includes $735 million in sales and use tax exemptions and other tax expenditures. For our moonshot teacher teacher pay raises—which simply make our wages competitive, not over the moon—we need 12.5% of those exemptions, one out of eight dollars.

Anderson notes that a third of the sales tax exemptions are for ag products (e.g., cattle feed and bedding, tractor fuel, swine and bull semen) and asks if nixing those favors would unfairly burden farmers. (Ah, clever, corporate journalists, trying to split the Democrat farm-teacher alliance!) I don't have any particular 12.5% on the chopping block yet. I've certainly never suggested we should take all of the exemptions from the farm sector. To the extent that it is possible to levy a regressive tax fairly, we should spread the exemption cuts around to share the burden among those best able to bear them, to tap wealth where wealth lies. I suggested in our phone interview we might do better to cut the exemption for shoppers' guide ink and advertising... but somehow that suggestion didn't get past the editor's desk at that Sioux Falls paper.

I also told Anderson in our phone conversation that I recognize that ending our our national embarrassment as the state that values teachers least by raising a regressive tax is a suboptimal solution and that many teachers would likely vote against raising their pay by expanding a regressive tax. I'd be open to a wide array of superior funding mechanisms for competitive teacher pay—corporate income tax, re-appropriation of corporate welfare, pot of gold at end of rainbow. I'm just offering a plan within the realm of the politically possible.

It thus seems perfectly possible to sir down with smart people in government and industry and prioritize those exemptions. Which exemptions serve the greatest public purpose? Which cuts will fall on sectors best able to bear them? Make list, cut off the bottom eighth (eighth, I said, eighth!), and we have competitive teacher wages.

And with seven-eighths of the exemptions, $643 million dollars, still on the table, we'd have plenty of room left to consider lifting exemptions to reduce or eliminate the tax on food, the way Minnesota and other civilized states do... because after all, how fair is a tax system that taxes your bologna sandwich but not bull semen?


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