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South Dakota Teacher Pay Last Again, 63% of National Average

Last updated on 2021.01.14

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 2010–2011 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 2010–2011 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 2010–11 Cost of Living 2010 Q4 (US = 100) Avg. teacher pay adjusted for cost of living Regional Price Parity 2005–9 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.


  1. twitchard 2011.06.13

    Maybe if we relaxed compulsory education laws? Not only would this help the students who would be better off out of school, but releasing those students would free up resources, making it possible to pay teachers more.

  2. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.06.13

    Richard! Good to hear from you again! Tell me if this counts as relaxation of compulsory attendance: roll back compulsory attendance to ninth grade, but pack the full K-12 curriculum into those ten years. (See Leon Botstein, Jefferson's Children, 1997.) Then tell kids "You're ready. Pick: work, national service, vo-tech, college."

  3. moses 2011.06.13

    Thats why we are great exporters of our children thanks to do nothing as Gov.

  4. Jana 2011.06.14

    Just waiting for a candidate in the next election to hold up this stat as a good thing. Oh heck, why wait. So I know that there are a good number of legislators that read this blog (no gloating here Corey) so why not tell us now how proud you are of this stat and how you think this bodes well for the state and it's future.

  5. Stan Gibilisco 2011.06.14

    While I don't subscribe to the idea that we can improve public education by simply throwing more money at the institution as a whole, I maintain that we don't pay South Dakota teachers enough. It's not only an economic issue, but a moral issue.

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.06.14

    I agree, Stan. At some point, relatively low pay must affect our ability to recruit top talent (if not, then free-market economics are a sham). But the moral argument—pay people what their labor is worth—is even more compelling.

  7. Ashley Kenneth Allen 2011.06.14

    Many friends of mine have stopped teaching and entered the private sector because of the low pay. My primary degree is also BSED, but I also chose to work in the private sector after college.

    We are losing some of our most talented educators because we do not respect them, thus we do not pay them a fair wage. We do not value education or educators in this state.

    A teacher should not make the same as someone bagging groceries. There is a different skill set and much more education required. *Summers off* is a myth and also does not justify paying teachers low wages. Most teachers I know are working 45+ hours a week on salary and still take half their vacation time in the summer prepping their classrooms and doing continuing education, all so they can be more successful in the classroom.

    This is beyond sad and embarrassing.

  8. Wayne B. 2011.06.14

    I'm not sure how valuable MERIC's CoL index is. It certainly looks convincing, but there's a major hurdle my brain isn't able to leap.

    The average of the 6 indicators for SD is 98.5% of the national average, but they appear to fail to weight for the percentage each of those indicators consumes of our annual budget (see this for an example

    Failing to weight for each indicator's share of my income gives me a poor idea of how much discretionary funds I have, which are a pretty good measure for how well-off I am. I'd love to see how that plays out.

  9. twitchard 2011.06.14

    Sounds like an interesting proposal, for sure, Cory, if it is possible to condense the k12 curriculum into only 9 years.

    But sure, that counts as relaxation of compulsory education in my book, so long as school days aren't lengthened too much.

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2011.06.15

    Botstein thinks it's possible: in his book, he contends that there's a lot of dinking around in the K-12 system, that younger kids have a lot more curiosity and learning capacity than the current pace of instruction assumes.

  11. Wayne B. 2011.06.15

    If we went to year-round education, it'd also help get kids through faster. There'd be no summer regression, so a lot of the time spent re-teaching could go towards new instruction and reinforcement.

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but we pay teachers for 9 months of work, yes? If we salaried them just like everyone else and expected them to work 50 weeks, shouldn't their salaries jump up by 25% as well? If that happens, then teachers are earning $44,000... and that's nothing shabby in South Dakota.

  12. Steve O'Brien 2012.07.05

    It appears that SD has instituted its own 3/5 compromise on the issue of teacher value.

  13. Carter 2012.07.05

    Wayne, it's the "pay teachers for 9 months/expect them to work 50 weeks" thing that's the entire problem. It's true that that's how people think, but it's lacking in knowledge.

    Teachers don't "just work 9 months". They put in 8 hours a day at the school itself for 9 months, but if you factor in writing homework/tests, developing homework/test keys, correcting homework/tests, and calculating grades, you have to add another 2-3 hours per night, every night, at least (if not many more). So in 9 months, most teachers do the same amount of work that normal workers do in 12 months.

    So yes, we pay them for 9 months, but they work 12 months, or more.

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