Concerns about the future of the teacher profession in South Dakota have led education officials to intensify their efforts to train and inspire a new generation of classroom leaders, with a particular emphasis on elementary classrooms.
As the statewide K-12 teacher shortage worsens, this trend is due to below-average salaries and teacher workforce losses due to factors such as the difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent politicization and repression of social studies standards. fueled by dissatisfaction. – called “inherently divisive,” or race-based classes, under Gov. Kristi Noem’s leadership.
Following a 6 percent increase in 2023, Noem proposed a 5 percent increase in state aid for education in fiscal 2024 as part of her $7.2 billion budget plan.
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That would dedicate $24 million in new funding to public schools for the 2023-24 school year, a 44 percent decrease from the nearly $43 million in new funding allocated for the 2022-23 school year, according to the South Dakota Unified School Board. School districts can decide how much to allocate to wages, but they also need the money to pay for things like utilities, food service, transportation, technology and extracurricular activities.
State Rep. Linda Duba (D-Sioux Falls), who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, told News Watch she plans to work with other lawmakers to push for more education funding in the 2024 budget to help recruit and retain teachers and meet demand inflation. The former teacher expressed concerns about the profession amid South Dakota’s current political and cultural climate.
“The element of trust and respect has been lost,” Dubar said. “There are a lot of like-minded people who understand what undervaluing teachers and setting low budget targets has done to national education over the past four or five years.”
There will be 176 teacher job openings statewide at the end of December 2022, compared to 111 at the end of December 2021, a result of teacher retirements and an increase in South Dakota K-12 enrollment from 128,000 to 141,000 over the past decade human results. Current openings include 36 special education and 34 elementary education.
The state’s largest school district, Sioux Falls, has 25 vacant teaching positions in June 2022, according to Assistant Superintendent Jamie Nold.
“We’re getting calls from schools looking to hire teachers mid-year,” said Amy Schweinle, dean of the University of South Dakota’s College of Education. “These are unprecedented times, and elementary education seems to be one of the biggest needs.”
Administrators say chronic vacancies detract from the educational experience as schools have to consolidate classrooms (increasing student-teacher ratios) or hire unqualified applicants to fill positions. Nord said Sioux Falls has responded to some classroom vacancies by hiring long-term substitute teachers or recalling retired teachers to fill vacancies. If current faculty and student population trends hold, the student-to-faculty ratio could rise to 20:1 by 2025, above South Dakota’s goal of 14:1.
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Wade Pogany, executive director of the South Dakota Unified School Board, said there are more teacher vacancies statewide than there were in 2015, when the governor was then governor. Dennis Daugaard has set up the Blue Ribbon Task Force, which is pushing for legislation to reform the school funding formula and support teacher wage growth with a halfpenny sales tax increase.
Despite these efforts, according to the National Education Association, South Dakota has an average teacher salary of $49,547, currently ranked 50th in the country, well below the national average of $65,293 and neighboring Minnesota ($66,561), Wyoming ($60,234), Iowa ($58,831), Nebraska ($56,463), North Dakota ($54,837) and Montana ($53,133). According to the NEA, South Dakota ranks 39th in state spending per student at $11,102.
Sioux Falls schools have raised average teacher salaries in the district from $53,200 to $57,160 over the past year in an attempt to attract and retain staff and seek to expand benefits and insurance programs. According to the 2021 South Dakota Teacher Salary Review Board report, some of the school districts with the highest average teacher salaries are Brandon Valley ($73,177), Yankton ($72,687), Huron ($66,723) and Mitchell ($66,555 ).
But with a national inflation rate of 7.1 percent, administrators worry about their ability to offer competitive salaries to retain skilled teachers or recruit recent college graduates who can earn an extra $10,000 a year by working across state lines Dollar.
Asked whether teacher shortages would lead Noem to call for a re-examination of school funding, as Daugaard’s Blue Ribbon Task Force did in 2015, Duba said: “No, I won’t. In the last four years of her administration, it has been clear that teachers Salary is not a priority. It’s important to remember that teachers are professionals and we need to respect their profession by encouraging them to stay here and rewarding their efforts. Ranking 50th in teacher compensation isn’t exactly a badge of honor. “
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While much attention has been focused on the demand side of the teacher shortage problem, college and K-12 administrators are looking for ways to ensure future teacher supply at a time when many faculty members are expressing frustration with the state of education.
A survey released by the American Federation of Teachers in January 2022 found that 55% of the 3,600 members surveyed were considering leaving the profession sooner than they had planned, up from almost two years ago double. Reasons cited include burnout, general stress from the pandemic, low wages and a lack of public respect. Eighty percent said unfilled job openings lead to more work for educators who remain.
Gina Benz, an English teacher at Roosevelt High School in Sioux Falls, cites South Dakota’s political and cultural landscape as a reason for teachers’ frustration.
As part of the Sioux Falls Teacher Pathways Program, launched in 2018, Benz aims to inspire a new generation of educators by allowing high school students to earn a teaching degree and enter the workforce earlier, ideally in their hometown. The partnership with the University of South Dakota is open to juniors and seniors and includes approximately 140 students who follow and assist teachers in the elementary school and earn college credit at an affordable rate.
Beginning in fall 2023, USD will offer an elementary education degree at the USD-Sioux Falls satellite campus to accommodate students who may not be able to pursue the traditional college experience at Vermillion.
One of the goals is to make the profession more accessible to minority or nontraditional students, who can help the district’s faculty more reflect the demographic makeup of its student body. Sioux Falls’ student enrollment is 58 percent white, 14.7 percent Hispanic, and 12.5 percent black, while the faculty is approximately 95 percent white.
“As a state, what we’ve been doing is not meeting our teacher reserve needs,” said Jay Perry, USD-Sioux Falls vice president and former policy advisor to the South Dakota State Board of Trustees.
— This article was produced by South Dakota News Watch, a nonprofit news organization at SDNewsWatch.org.