I've written on multiple occasions that South Dakota is dropping the ball when it comes to the state providing its fair share of funding for K-12 schools. A variety of education experts brought that message to the South Dakota Legislature's interim committee on the education funding formula Wednesday.

Some of the most compelling data on Pierre's miserly treatment of our schools comes from the South Dakota Budget and Policy Project. Their study of per-student K-12 funding in South Dakota finds us lagging sorely behind neighboring states and the nation in state support for education. Consider these four charts, showing per-student funding in 2011 inflation-adjusted dollars:

SDBPPTotal-per-student-spending2 As you might expect, South Dakota spends less per child on K-12 education than our neighbors and the nation. But if South Dakota has better purchasing power, maybe we can get as much bang out of fewer educational bucks than Minnesota and other places spend.

So let's compare how much we spend on our kids' education by the source of the dollars, federal, local, and state:


Looking good there: we consistently bring home more federal bacon per child to our schools than the regional and national average. According to the SDBPP, South Dakota gets 37% more per student from Uncle Sam than the national average and 29% more than the regional average. Yay, federal money!


But even with that higher-than-average influx of federal dollars, our local districts are still keeping up with national and regional averages for the amount of local dollars dedicated to education. In 2011, says SDBPP, South Dakota's local per-student K-12 spending was 3% lower than the national average and 5% lower than the regional average.

So if South Dakota spends significantly less per student overall, but we're getting lots more federal money than most places and spending just a little less locally, where's the gap come from? Pierre:


It is in state source per-student funding that South Dakota most significantly lags the national and surrounding states averages. As of 2011, South Dakota’s state source average per-student funding was 46% lower than the national average federal per-student funding and 53% lower than the surrounding state average. Analysis of the 10 year trend reveals South Dakota’s deficit in state-source per-student funding has been steadily worsening relative to national averages (from negative 38% to negative 46%) and surrounding state averages (from negative 33% to negative 53%) [Joy Smolnisky, "Per-Student K-12 Funding in South Dakota," South Dakota Budget and Policy Project, 2013.06.18].

It's one thing to say that things cost less in South Dakota, so we can afford to spend less on education. It's another thing, a really cowardly thing, for our state legislators to shirk their duty to fund education, use as a crutch the federal money they tend to demonize, and expect local school districts to work up the political courage that our legislators themselves will not.