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South Dakota Teacher Pay So Bad, Even Republicans Can’t Excuse It

Teacher Salaries State rank Boeckenstedt Dec 2013
Teacher salaries by state, highest to lowest. NCES data, 2013 Digest of Education Statistics; chart by Jon Boeckenstedt, "How Much Do We Pay Public School Teachers?" Higher Ed Data Stories, 2013.12.15

It's hard to choose which quote to run first on new data showing South Dakota's abysmally low K-12 teacher salaries.

Democrat David Newquist sees the data reinforcing his frequent lament, "And folks keep puzzling about why the young and talented don't want to live here."

Republican John Tsitrian calls the numbers a grave liability to Governor Daugaard's economic development efforts. Tsitrian wonders if Team Daugaard is "overlooking, if not altogether ignoring, a major component of the state's infrastructure--the quality of its professional educators--when touting the benefits of life and work in South Dakota."

Arch-conservative Gordon Howie, who scornfully compares U.S. Senate candidate Mike Rounds's various sources of easy income to the paltry but hard-earned pay of our teachers.

Permit me to adapt Howie's approach to the topic: at $39,580 a year, the average South Dakota teacher will not earn in eleven full school years what Richard Benda finagled for two years of "monitoring" two loans to one doomed company in Aberdeen.

Richard Benda invested great energy and brainpower in marketing and recruiting and elaborate corporate financing schemes to infuse risky business ventures with millions of EB-5 visa investment dollars. Governor Dennis Daugaard dreamed up some creative bookkeeping to turn one-time revenues into millions in ongoing savings. If we could find one policy wonk who could apply just a quarter Benda's and Daugaard's fiscal creativity to K-12 education, maybe we could find the eighty* million dollars it might take to bring our K-12 teachers salaries up to parity with our cheapest neighbor, North Dakota.

Low teacher pay has plagued South Dakota for decades. Are we ready to end this embarrassment, this failure, this ongoing degradation of our quality of life? Or will we just shrug and keep telling teachers that we value them less here than any other state on our borders or across the country does?

Update 08:30 CST: A commenter catches a missing zero in my casual math. I originally posited that eight million would do the job, but if we have about 9,000 teachers and need about $8,000 for each, that would be $72,000,000. I round up to $80M in case I'm missing some teachers in my count. If $80M does the job, we need to figure out a way to get $100 more from each person in South Dakota to pay teachers what North Dakota thinks they are worth.


  1. Brian 2013.12.18

    Only 8 million to catch us up? Id like to see that math.

  2. Rorschach 2013.12.18

    But it's worth an $8,000 pay cut not to have to put up with the prosperity in North Dakota, right? Just ask Dusty.

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.12.18

    Whoops! I might have forgotten a zero. About 9,000 teachers? $8,000 a head... dang! $72,000,000! I guess it's hopeless. Back to the salt mines, teachers!

  4. WestRiver 2013.12.18

    You are right, "low teacher's pay has plagued us for decades." Two of my three children have expressed interest in teaching and as you can imagine, I have discouraged two of my three children to not become teachers UNLESS they want to live in another state other than SD. Reason? I don't want them living in my basement their whole life or to be struggling on their own just to make ends meet. I have learned that very often, when a child expresses the desire to teach others it is because they were taught by teachers who inspired them. With this being said, I believe that although our teachers may be paid less, their hearts must truly be in it or the salaries alone would have scared them away. They, much like others with Midwestern values, believe that pay doesn't equal performance; if they did, we'd be in a lot of trouble.

  5. Chris Francis 2013.12.18

    Not to be overly critical, but the term 'South Dakota Rich' often comes to mind, essentially, conservative South Dakotans like to act rich and well-positioned financially, but in reality, its through rentals, loans, leases, high interest credit cards, and vacation homes on shallow polluted lakes, all justified with some confused sense of self-pride and false sense of self-reliance. In reality, it's an act, and a pathetic if not malicious act at that which maintains and upholds the diminished economic prospects for everyone else, teachers, mechanics, service workers, and the rest of the blue-collar working class, resulting in gaping holes in the social and economic welfare of South Dakota families. I've come to realize that South Dakota likes to rent its taste, our lifestyles are a farce, we like to appear self-reliant and more affluent than our neighbors, even mocking their successes, rather than own up our own shortcomings, and thus negate the underlying issues of poverty and distress clearly evident among so many of our less fortunate South Dakotans.

  6. Rick 2013.12.18

    I forgot which governor said it, but trying to catch up to second worst in the nation was deemed a goal that was too expensive and out of reach. There was some squirming about it with one or two editorials, but we (the people) returned to our collective coma. It seems any time Pierre gets involved, the education community gets punished, not rewarded honestly, for producing what they do with inadequate money. This will not change until people in South Dakota change.

  7. Rorschach 2013.12.18

    10.3% less than the state just 2 spots ahead of us (Oklahoma).

    16.4% less than the lowest paid state bordering us (North Dakota).

    That's abysmal! SD government must really think our teachers are bottom feeders.

  8. Deb Geelsdottir 2013.12.18

    You nailed exactly Chris Francis. There are exceptions, of course, but overall the generalization is accurate.

  9. interested party 2013.12.18

    From the miles of column inches to the googol of electrons devoted to high school and college athletics, attention to education is woefully tangential: perfect diversion from the sepsis bubbling in the bowels in the state's capital.

  10. interested party 2013.12.18

    66 county seats: one has to ask why public jobs are only okay for Republicans.

  11. SuperSweet 2013.12.18

    The GOED should be truly embarrassed regarding this report. Businesses looking to re-locate usually are interested in how the state views education. What does this tell you?

  12. grudznick 2013.12.18

    Mr. IP has a good point. Trim down to 7 counties, cut that fat, eliminate the parking spaces for fat cat administrators and go to half the number of school districts. And...just to get the vote...Mexican Statehood for the Tribe!

  13. interested party 2013.12.18

    nice moon there, too, grud?

  14. BOHICA 2013.12.19

    Once again, we have hit rock bottom....and continue to dig.

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