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:
- 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?
- 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?
- 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.