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Testing an Economic Development Line: Treat Teachers and Corporations the Same?

I've been thinking about a pitch I'd love to hear from any candidate for Governor of South Dakota:

I propose that the great state of South Dakota treat teachers the same way we treat corporations. Teachers and corporations are both people, right? So teachers and corporations ought to respond the same way to state policy, right?

I thus promise that, as your governor, I will turn to all those fine corporations we try to recruit and say, "Come to South Dakota! You'll get fresh air, great hunting, easy traffic, nice neighbors, the works!"

I will also tell them that our state will give them the smallest economic development incentives in the nation. "You corporations are just like teachers. You don't work for money. You produce your goods and services for love, for the pride of a job well done. You don't need a bunch of extra money from our state." That ought to have corporations racing for our borders, right?

I see some of you snickering. If you think corporations won't fall for that pitch, then I propose an alternative teacher-corporation equity policy. How about instead I turn to all those fine teachers we need and say, "South Dakota's a great place to live and work, and we want you to be a part of it. We want you badly enough that we'll pay you to come and stay. Maybe we can't match the teacher pay in Minnesota (yet!), but we can do our darnedest to compete. Here's what we have to offer."

I'm going to offer teachers property tax rebates, just like we offer corporations. I'm going to offer teachers Future Fund grants and special loans to buy and build their houses. I'm going to fly to teacher fairs across the country to personally recruit the best and brightest teachers from other states.

And I'm going to raise the average teacher pay in South Dakota by $10,000. We're going to make teaching in South Dakota a $50,000-a-year job.

Given about 10,000 teachers in the state, that means we have to add $100 million to the state budget. $100 million.

Is that a moonshot? Maybe. But we shoot the moon for big corporations. Why can't we shoot the moon for teachers? And should we really view it as a moonshot to raise our teacher pay to a mere 34th in the nation?

And consider that we could get that $100 million without passing a single new tax. We don't need an income tax to do it. We don't need a new corporate tax to do it. We just to get rid of 17% of the $582 million worth of sales tax exemptions that we hand out as favors to various businesses in South Dakota. We just need to get just a sixth of the businesses getting this favor to pay the sales tax most other businesses pay.

What's good for the corporate goose is good for the teaching gander. If we think we can hire teachers on the lowest pay in the nation, then we should recruit corporations with the least incentives in the nation. But if we think we need to compete with other states on corporate incentives, then we need to compete with other states on teacher pay.

Corporate policy and education policy are both about economic development. I'll treat corporations and teachers whichever way you want, South Dakota. But we should treat them the same.

* * *
Any candidates care to take up that pitch?


  1. Haley Hoium 2014.03.21

    Thanks for this post, Cory. I appreciate someone speaking out about how education is viewed here in South Dakota. I attend Augustana College in Sioux Falls as an elementary education major. I am one of many students who will soon be graduating and facing the task of finding a worthwhile teaching job. I am originally from Minnesota, so whenever I return home, I am asked the question, "Well, you are planning on coming back to Minnesota to teach, right?" Because why would I want to stay in a state that gives so little support to teachers? I am torn by this question. I have grown quite fond of the city of Sioux Falls and the schools I've worked in, but what does South Dakota have to offer me as a teacher? The education department at Augustana is doing a fantastic job of producing some pretty phenomenal future teachers, but the state's education policies are scaring them all away to neighboring states that have a lot more to offer. Thank you for be an advocate for change. I yearn for others to embrace the importance of this issue so that when I'm graduating in a couple years, I can say with confidence that I would be happy work as a teacher in this great city.

  2. El Rayo X 2014.03.21

    Cory, you're a man with a plan. Now take it one step further. Let's see your breakdown of that 17%. What's coming off the sales tax exemption list? Newspaper advertising? Farm machinery repair? Bull semen? Medical services?

  3. Jim in DC 2014.03.21

    Brilliant, Cory!

  4. Loren 2014.03.21

    Do I detect a note of sarcasm in this piece??

  5. aaron 2014.03.21

    I'll say it again because someone needs to. Teachers (in any state) do just fine. However superintendents do a whole lot better. Perhaps you could at least advocate for cutting administration expenses.

  6. mike from iowa 2014.03.21

    Add up the number of korporations in SoDak and divide by the number of teachers. The resulting figure gives you the percentage of all korporations each teacher will personally own and benefit from(plus incentive bonuses,stock options,perks,insurance etc,). Since teachers will now be the owners,they'll get to share the profits and eliminate the other share holders.

  7. Tim 2014.03.21

    One problem, republicans don't see teachers as people anymore than they do the rest of us, they always treat corporations and big business better than us.

  8. Curt 2014.03.21

    $100 M is probably a stretch, but there is potential for capturing some of that dough the state leaves on the table. I'll nominate billboard advertising as a place to begin repealing some exemptions.
    The ag sector is going to scream if anyone looks in their direction. Adelstein made noises a few years ago about reviewing those exemptions and really awakened those angry hornets.

  9. Disgusted Dakotan 2014.03.21

    No need even to get rid of the exemptions, just take away all the discretionary tens of millions of $$ that Daugaard has in the futures fund, GOED, Build SD, WINS, etc., etc., and put all of that towards education instead of crony-capitalism.

  10. Mark Remily 2014.03.21

    Great plan Cory. Now all we have to do is to is unseat about 30 republicans in the legislature. Including the Governor.

  11. John Tsitrian 2014.03.21

    Cory, in the Dept or Revnue list that I linked to, the DOR hints that these exemptions could be reviewed for consideration. Says the DOR: "on a case by case basis, the estimates [of potential revenue] provide a valuable benchmark for discussion of whether policy justifications warrant the loss of revenue." I hope all the Madville Maniacs will take a minute to scan it. Some of these exemptions could stand some "justification," using DOR's language. Here's the list, 15 pages of 'em:

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.03.21

    Mark! That's totally doable! Make it so!

  13. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.03.21

    Haley, can your profs or ed department give us a count of their teaching grads who've gone out of state in the past few years?

  14. Haley Hoium 2014.03.21

    Cory, I'm sure they have that information. I will definitely look into it, as I am quite curious as well. Thank you.

  15. Lynn G. 2014.03.21

    "Madville Maniacs" John I have always loved that! lol Cory can you add T-Shirts and other Madville Maniac items for sale on your blog?

  16. grudznick 2014.03.21

    aaron, you are very right indeed. Those fatcat administrators are the first places where cuts need to be made and then give that money to the best teachers first. Good teachers get more money. Not as good teachers get less money. Fair is fair, even for teachers. We are not socialists.

  17. Bill Dithmer 2014.03.21

    Legalize both recreational marijuana and hemp. Take the taxes from the sales of pot and put toward substance abuse. Take the tax from industrial hemp and put that towards better pay for teachers.

    Let's not make it harder then it needs to be. Jobs, industry, and a new source of revenue to help support the state.

    The Blindman

  18. grudznick 2014.03.21

    Hemp would be the dyed diesel of the weed smoking world. Tax them both at the same rate as we tax chaw and snuff, and then we're good to go.

  19. Tara Volesky 2014.03.21

    The school boards need to quit rubber stamping pay increases for their superintendents and administrators. SD is ranked 24th in the nation in salaries for administators while our teachers are ranked 50th. How about some distribution of wealth. The Governor would rather spend millions of dollars SD on Common Core than he would on our teachers.

  20. grudznick 2014.03.21


  21. Nick Nemec 2014.03.21

    Grudz, don't click on the obvious spam comments!

  22. Lanny V Stricherz 2014.03.21

    This morning's Argus showed a 4% State tax on farm machinery, all of which is a business need and expense. However SD only taxes new vehicles at 3% while surrounding States tax at 5% But we still tax groceries at 4 with the local governments taxing up to another 2%, which most of the larger communities do. Our neighbors have removed the tax on groceries.

    And at the risk of being redundant, I posted earlier in the week on another blog post, not only are we 50th in average teacher pay, we are 10,000 below ND which is 49th.

  23. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.03.21

    Oh Aaron! You said, "Teachers (in any state) do just fine."

    You got a lot of laughs for that. Don't you know that just because you say it, regardless of how many times, that doesn't make it true.? Even if you say it longer and louder and with more emphasis, it's still not true. It is your opinion, and you are most welcome to it. Enjoy.

  24. Wayne Pauli 2014.03.21

    Unless of course he is wearing ruby colored shoes and he taps his heals and says...there is no place like home...there is no place like home. But Grudz liked his that makes one.

  25. charlie5150 2014.03.21

    There should be plenty of money for education from those video lottery machines. That is what we voted for right?

  26. grudznick 2014.03.21

    Mr. charlie5150, the teachers sucked up all the video lottery money and then whined for more. More more more is never enough. They get 2% they whine for 3%. They get 3% they whine for more. They get more than 3% and their heinous union pulls the puppet strings on the teachers to whine for even more yet.

    Next year I hope the legislatures go back to dishing out beatings if we have to listen to the whinings no matter what.

  27. grudznick 2014.03.21

    Mr. charlie5150, the teachers sucked up all the video lottery money and then whined for more. More more more is never enough. They get 2 they whine for 3. They get 3 they whine for more. They get more than 3 and their heinous union pulls the puppet strings on the teachers to whine for even more yet.

    Next year I hope the legislatures go back to dishing out beatings if we have to listen to the whinings no matter what.

  28. SuperSweet 2014.03.21

    We are hired by conservative school boards to keep salaries down. There is an inverse correlation between teachers salaries and supt salaries :) The lower we keep the teachers salaries the more we get! This is in the fine print in our contracts :)

  29. Roger Cornelius 2014.03.21


    When did South Dakota education programs start receiving video lottery money? It was my impression that the state agency turned down any gaming revenue.

  30. SuperSweet 2014.03.21

    We are hired by conservative school boards to keep salaries down. There is an inverse correlation between teachers salaries and supt salaries :) The lower we keep the teachers salaries the more we get! This is in the fine print in our contracts:) $$$$

  31. Deb Geelsdottir 2014.03.21

    Democratic Governor Mark Dayton in MN *just signed* into law a $250 tax deduction for teachers who spend at least that much out of pocket for school supplies in their classrooms.

    Woot! Woot! Woot!

  32. Lanny V Stricherz 2014.03.21

    grudz, you come on a progressive blog and you whine, you get to keep your Republican Governorship and you whine, you get to keep your one Republican US Senator and you whine, you get a new extremely far right Congresswoman, you whine, you will probably retain those three and then get a new Republican US Senator and you whine, you get an even wider margin for your Republicans in the State legislature and you whine, So how you diferent from Charlie5150?

  33. Roger Cornelius 2014.03.21


    You're about grudz and is whining, South Dakota Republicans and their tea party should be the happiest in the union. Besides all the Republicans you mentioned, they have run this state for nearly four decades.
    They stick their heads up their butts when anyone talks about their crony capitalism and the GOED scandal, Nothing there to whine about, right?

    It is time, I believe that we throw grudz and his buddies a huge pity party. I'll buy the coffee!

  34. grudznick 2014.03.21

    Mr. Stricherz.

    I am here to annoy you for my own entertainment.

    grudz laughing. grudz laughing.

  35. Mike B 2014.03.22

    How many teachers do we currently have?
    How many unemployed teachers are searching for jobs?
    How many graduates do we have each year with teaching degrees want to stay in SD?
    How many teachers are retiring?
    What programs can be cut in the state budget to fund increased teacher salaries if taxpayers don't want to pay more?
    Would spending the money targeted on troubled teens struggling to graduate and getting on the right path be a smarter use of additional funds in education?

  36. aaron 2014.03.22

    Deb, I knew I would get a pull out of you. Glad to make you laugh......but I'm still right. ;)

    Grudz, I like your thinking.

  37. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.03.22

    Mike, why don't taxpayers want to pay more? Do they think it's right to pay our teachers less than we pay any other teachers in the nation? If so, then will they accept my opening proposal, that we also offer corporations the least incentives in the nation?

  38. John Tsitrian 2014.03.22

    Cory, I think the compelling question isn't so much "why don't taxpayers want to pay more" as it is "why do some citizens who consume state government services like everybody else get to pay nothing when it comes to a class of taxes that fund those services?" Aaron, your subjective opinion is worth considering, but not in the context of objective reality--SD teachers are paid way below national and regional scales and a shortage problem is turning into a crisis. Tara, that our administrators are in the middle of the national pack when it comes to salaries is no vice, that our teachers rank dead last is no virtue. I checked the RCAS district numbers and the administrator/teacher ratio is about 12/1, pretty much consistent with national numbers. Rapid City has 75 administrators and about 1000 teachers. Anybody suggesting that we're overloaded with administrators bears a burden of proof here, and I'd love to see those suggestions put into revised table of organization showing which administrative positions can be cut, along with how their respective duties can be eliminated or consolidated. Talk's cheap.

  39. John Tsitrian 2014.03.22

    85 administrators

  40. aaron 2014.03.22

    John, I'm sorry I couldn't rise above the subjective fray of my own reality. Fact is, compare what teachers make with other workers in the state and if you think agriculture isn't paying enough toward education and they can easily absorb a 4% tax on inputs than perhaps we can all be a little guilty of being less than fully objective. A sales tax on ag inputs would more than anything only be a boon for ag suppliers in western MN, southern ND.
    Also, I live in a small county with 3 small school districts each with a superintendent. I do admit to being ignorant as to the full duties of a super and if one wishes to cast my view as unqualified than I think that is fair here. However am I crazy to think we could get by with just one?

  41. John Tsitrian 2014.03.22

    Aaron, I think your observations merit consideration, if only because they reflect what I believe are serous and common concerns shared by a lot of South Dakotans. Comparing teacher pay with other workers in the state misses an important difference: education levels. A more useful comparison tests teacher salaries against those of others with college degrees, and I can't think of many college-educated South Dakotans who would be willing to work for less that $40 k/year. Can you? As to the sales tax issue, I sense that you know more about its components in the ag sector than I do. I note that far less than half of the exemptions I listed are accounted for by ag sales. That doesn't mean a thorough review and analysis of those exemptions, along with all the other ones, couldn't stand a review and a fresh explanation of why their exemptions are justified. Re: your county school districts--seems like a consolidation of administrative functions is worth considering. Probably long overdue in similar situations in South Dakota. It's possible that enough money could be diverted from administrative to teaching salaries that way, though I believe the proponents of consolidation have never produced hard numbers in that regard, or even whether they think the money should go to teachers or be used for property tax relief.

  42. mike from iowa 2014.03.22

    Since rethugs see teachers as glorified baby sitters,pay each teacher five bucks per hour, per child,per day,based on eight hour days and five days per week. That is $40 bucks per child times at least 20 kids per class=$800 bucks per day times 5 days =$4000 per week per teacher times at least 36 weeks per year=$144,000 per year per teacher. I think you'd have an abundance of applications before you know it. Solve two problems at once.

  43. Steve O'Brien 2014.03.22

    Cory, "Mike, why don't taxpayers want to pay more?"

    Nationally, the average American pays 9.9% of his or her income in state and local taxes. SD pays 7.6% (

    I think the answer to your question is really one about perspective. South Dakotans are not paying their share (as has been documented here with the large role federal money plays in sustaining our state budget). I'm not even sure SD realizes how much they underpay compared to the rest of the country; but underpay we do, and that is seen as a virtue. Somehow the rhetoric of the evil of handing any nickel to the government has trumped the truth of the importance of vital social services to a happy, well-rounded society. It is the result of that taxation underpayment that we under-budget social services.

    SD has a revenue problem, not a spending problem.

  44. Charlie Johnson 2014.03.22

    Would not a one percent(or less) gross income levy provide the funding to adequately finance k-12 education and improve teacher salaries plus also eliminate property taxes as a source of education funding except for bond redemption and capital outlay?

  45. Stan Gibilisco 2014.03.22

    As a sole proprietor, I must file a sales tax return here in SD. I pay use tax every year on Internet purchases because they would likely audit me if I did not, and then I would get caught cheating.

    If everyone paid the use tax that they owe, how much revenue would that generate?

    but noooooo ... People laugh when I suggest such an unrealistc thing.

  46. Stan Gibilisco 2014.03.22

    Raise sales tax by a penny. Exempt groceries. Find a way to get everyone to pay use tax. That oughta do 'er eh?

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