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Three Bills Target Teacher Shortage: Weaken Unions, Promote Paras, Cover Recertification

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.


  1. Tim 2015.02.02

    They don't want to solve the problem, they just it to look like they are trying to solve the problem. They can propose stuff until the cows come home, but if they don't fund any of it, it's just more BS, setting the individual districts up to take the fall.

  2. Tim 2015.02.02

    I can hear it now...We gave districts all of these "tools" to help with their teacher problems, they are refusing to use them, go talk to your school board.

  3. Anne Beal 2015.02.02

    Interesting report here about how the average high school in Dallas spends $230,000/year on football. I would love to see the figures for schools in SD.

    What I see here are schools so heavy with administrative staff and athletic programs that there isn't enough money left over for teachers' salaries.

    The public high school I attended had over 1000 students, but no superintendent ( Superintendent of Schools was a county job), no vice-principal, and, in the days before computers, just one secretary. AND NO FOOTBALL .

    When I first moved to South Dakota I landed in McLaughlin, where, I soon learned, the high school hadn't had a math teacher for over a year but the townspeople didn't care. When they lost their basketball coach, though, they lost their minds. Upon moving to Chamberlain, I inquired about the quality of the public schools, but all anybody wanted to talk about was basketball. And when I moved to Flandreau, I found out many of the middle school teachers were men who had been hired to coach something, but did not have degrees in the subjects they were teaching on the side.
    The locally-elected school boards set the priorities. Don't expect the state legislature or the Governor to straighten this out. At least they offered students open enrollment so they can vote with their feet.

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2015.02.02

    You can keep trying to shift the blame, Anne, but last I checked, extracurriculars only make up three or four percent of school budgets. Fixing the teacher shortage is a money problem, and no scapegoating can cover the fact that the main culprits of our money problem are the gutless Legislature and a Governor who talks about K-12 schools like smelly socks while making animated sales pitches for corporate recruits.

  5. o 2015.02.02

    Incentives to bring in first-year teachers certainly needs to be part of any plan to address our teacher shortage, but it is only one small aspect. I feel like it is how we bait the trap for teachers if we do not also discuss keeping salaries competitive after getting these young teachers in the door. Will making the first year “competitive” in salary keep a teacher that sees that in future years he or she can expect to make at least $8,000 less annually, that he or she will lose the better part of $320,000 over the life of a teaching career in SD? Baiting the trap better doesn’t change the fact that it is still a trap. Up to half of new teachers leave the profession in the first five years. Retention is as large a factor in the teacher shortage as attraction of new candidates. Fewer teachers leaving means fewer slots needing to be filled.

    Teachers are not the enemy. SDEA and local organizations are advocating and working toward answers to bring in new teachers to the profession AND to help them be successful (especially in the area of strong mentoring). To cut teachers out of that discussion with “non-negotiable” clauses is to falsely paint teachers as the enemy of progress: something that sets real discussion of real solutions backward. It also brings into question how these new teachers will view SD districts when they see their peers artificially removed from discussions of concerns (as they themselves will be removed after they sign on the dotted line). With no new funding for these incentives, it won’t take long to see that these bonuses and incentives will come from the pockets of already under-paid teachers on staff. “Out with the old and in with the new” is not a sustainable model for staffing schools.

    Luring candidates into short-term positions is not the answer to the teaching crisis in SD; creating a professional community that is respected and rewarded is. Retaining quality teachers in classrooms must be a priority when considering policy options.

    This “solution” incentivizes me to look to our neighbors for a better offer. I suspect that more teachers will be incentivized to look over the fence and see that the grass is indeed greener on the Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, Wyoming, and North Dakota sides. I don’t see how that helps keep teachers in SD. Once a SD district does not fully match those better offers (better by $8,000 to $18,000), what teacher will stay? They have a better offer in hand. Economic reality will replace hypotheticals.

  6. Richard Schriever 2015.02.02

    I don't understand how Repubs/conservatives just cannot seem to come to an understanding that economic principles apply equally to people "selling" their labor in the market as they do to "businesses" selling a good or service. There is a "short supply" of labor in SD (= low unemployment) relative to demand. That means prices for labor (wages) should be HIGH - according to the econ 101 supply/demand equations they are always referring to.

    SD conservatives need to take a dose of their own "free market" medicine. Realize that educator labor is a "product" and the state is a consumer. When other consumers (neighboring states) place a higher bid for that product, the product becomes unavailable to the low-price shopper (SD). Elasticity has its limits; it stretches - then breaks.

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