KATIE ZERR: Teacher crisis is real in South Dakota

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There is a crisis looming in education and it is time South Dakota begins to address its issues with teachers before we find unqualified people being forced to teach our children in the classroom.

South Dakota is dead last in starting teacher’s salaries in the United States. With an average starting salary of  just more that $29,000, South Dakota lags way behind in paying the people who, outside of relatives, have the most influence on the lives of our young people. We are headed for an education crisis in which there will be fewer qualified teachers and better opportunities for those teachers in every other state.

The average teacher’s salary in the other Upper Plains states is much higher than that of South Dakota.

In Minnesota, a state that was in financial crisis as little as two years ago, the average pay for a teachers is $53,680; in Iowa, $49,844; Montana, $47,132; Nebraska, $47,368; North Dakota, $44,807 and in Wyoming, $56,100.

The average salary in South Dakota according to the Census is more than $47,000. In a breakdown a general manger or operations manager in South Dakota averages close to $49,000 per year. The average salary for an officer manager, $36,000; the general manager in a hotel, more than $45,000; and nurses, $45,000.

Average salary in Walworth County, according to the U.S. census is $42,700.

There are those who still say teachers are paid well, considering they only work nine months out of the year. While that might have been true years ago, it is no longer the case. Teachers spend those three months out of the classroom taking courses to keep up with new teaching techniques, to meet requirements of their degrees and learning to integrate new technology in their classrooms.

Education has changed dramatically in the just the past five years. One of the reasons we lag behind in South Dakota is because we refuse to see the big picture.

According to a report from the Alliance for Excellent Education, nearly half a million U.S. teachers either move or leave the profession each year. This movement costs the United States up to $2.2 billion annually, according to the report.

The turnover rate is seriously compromising the nation’s capacity to ensure that all students have access to skilled teaching. According to the report, the cost of teachers leaving the profession pales in comparison to the loss of human potential in the students. As qualified teachers leave the profession because they can make more in another, less stressful, less time- consuming position, they are being replaced by younger, less experienced teachers.

Studies show teaching quality is the most powerful school-based factor in student learning. It outweighs students’ social and economic background as a factor in student learning.

As the qualified teachers leave the profession, so do experienced mentors, and opportunities for collaboration and feedback.

The report also shows 40 to 50 percent of new teachers leave the profession within five years.  With fewer people chosing teaching as a profession, there are fewer candidates to fill more and more positions across the country.

The Alliance for Excellence in Education report also provided cost estimates of what teachers leaving the profession cost all 50 states. That range is between $2 million and $235 million. The cost for South Dakota is estimated to be as high as $7.5 million.

In South Dakota we are currently suffering a teacher shortage. It has been in the forefront of conversation in the past two to three years at education conferences and in the legislature.

In the 2014-2015 school year, this was more evident than ever before as more than 30 percent of teaching positions had not been filled at the end of May.

It is time we address this issue statewide. We cannot allow our children to fall farther behind because we refuse to view teachers as some of the most important components in our state’s success. If we continue to treat education as an afterthought, how do we expect our young people to feel like they want to stay and contribute to the success of our communities?

We need to find solutions to our funding problems and that begins in our state government.

The manner in which they view the importance of education should be a major factor in who we elect to lead.

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