South Dakota improves in teacher pay rankings

For the first time in more than 30 years, South Dakota is not dead last in the nation when it comes to teacher salaries.

The latest Rankings and Estimates report from the National Education Association moved South Dakota up slightly from 51st among the 50 states and District of Columbia to 48th.

The move is the result of the 2016 action by the state legislature to raise South Dakota’s sales tax and devote the extra revenue to teacher salaries.

The new NEA report says that South Dakota’s average teacher salary rose nearly 12 percent between the 2015-2016 school year and the 2016-2017 year.

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard notes the state’s economy means the buying power of teachers’ salaries is even higher.

"After you adjust for our very low cost of living and our lack of an income tax, it’s equivalent to the 29th place, which is close to the middle of the pack — and I think that’s a respectable place to be,” said Daugaard. “We’ve still got room to grow and improvements to make, but I’m very pleased with the significant growth we’ve seen in the last years."

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Daugaard also said the raises sent an important message to teachers — that South Dakotans value the work they do.

Mary McCorkle, the president of the South Dakota Education Association, praised the improvement, but said the state can’t let 48th place be good enough.