RCAS meets with local legislators in effort to address funding, staffing issues

RAPID CITY, S.D. — With teacher funding in South Dakota in the spotlight, several West River legislators gathered with representatives from the Rapid City Area Schools Board of Education to address proposed funding and staffing shortages ahead of the 2022 legislative session.

Thumbnail Img 8746The two big requests coming from RCAS? Asking legislators to make education funding decisions at the start of their session, and trying to find legislators to sponsor a bill allowing for “alternative certification,” creating pathways for paraprofessionals and those with valuable experience to be certified without a traditional four-year degree requirement.

After Governor Noem’s proposed 6% increase in state aid for education, Superintendent Dr. Lori Simon believes the district can prioritizing that funding for teacher and staff salaries.

With two teachers quitting in the past week alone, RCAS says solidifying funding as soon as possible will give them an edge in negotiations.

“It helps stabilize it. We know education would be the priority for South Dakota – instead of talking about it at the end,” says RCAS Board of Education President Kate Thomas. “So it would give us a little bit more of reliability on them.”

While no legislator was outright against the governor’s proposal, concerns were raised about the effectiveness of any legislation.

“The state does not have the ability to target teacher pay and see it through to fruition,” says State Sen. Chris Johnson (R-Dist. 32). “We can allocate funds that are earmarked for teacher pay – and that are dedicated on our end towards teacher pay – but ultimately it’s the local school districts around South Dakota that make that decision.”

A major concern for the district is consistency, and with Noem’s proposed funding a one-time deal, legislators are looking to find other avenues of funding to address the wage disparity between teaching and other industries.

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South Dakota and neighbors average teacher salaries, 2013-14 through 2019-20 (source: NEA Rankings and Estimates Report 2015-21)

Sen. Johnson says South Dakota is one of the lowest tax burden states in the nation – something that has to be balanced with education funding.

“At some point in time, we need to figure out a way that we can raise teacher pay and at the same time keep our taxes low so everybody is in agreement on that,” Johnson adds.

State law requires that K-12 funding see an annual increase of 3% or inflation, whichever is less.

Noem’s 6% proposal – if adopted – would mean that K-12 funding would see a 13.5% increase over the course of her first term as governor.

The 2022 legislative session begins on January 11.

Categories: Local News, Politics & Elections, South Dakota News