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KATIE ZERR: Legislators must put S.D. before party

Gov. Dennis Daugaard took what some are calling a bold step Tuesday during his state of the state speech to take South Dakota out of last place in teacher pay.
Daugaard said he would seek a one-half-cent increase in the state sales tax to raise teacher pay in South Dakota.
The Blue Ribbon Task-Force on Teachers and Students worked for months to come up with recommendations to help South Dakota out of the cellar of teacher pay and to study options on how to make that happen. On Tuesday, Daugaard said the state needs to add more money into the system in order to give the state the opportunity to attract and keep good educators.
Daugaard also admitted that low teacher pay in South Dakota was causing school districts to come up short when they tried to recruit teachers, especially in rural school districts.
Daugaard said because South Dakota teacher’s pay lags behind neighboring states, young teachers are choosing to begin their careers elsewhere. His plan would raise the average teacher salary in South Dakota from $40,000 to $48,000. That salary makes teacher pay comparable to that offered offered in surrounding states.
Daugaard also proposed a new formula to calculate state aid to districts based on teacher-to-student rations. This is a sliding scale ratio that changes with the number of students in a district. The new formula will drive a more informed debate about education through the transparency it provides for teachers and taxpayers, the governor said.
The sales tax increase would generate an estimated $107.4 million, $40 million more than governor’s plan requires. The excess funds raised by the sales tax increase would be earmarked for property tax relief. If approved, it would be the first permanent increased state sales tax rate of 4 cents per dollar in nearly half a century.
In experiencing the turning tone in Pierre in the past couple of years, there is a bit of doubt that Daugaard has enough pull with his own party to get the tax increase to pass. There is a faction in the Republican Party that mirrors the worst of the national mood-the we won’t do anything that benefits the people if the other party is in favor of it-attitude.
There are members in the South Dakota legislature that have taken our governing body from good people who were at least willing to consider options to just another “it’s our way or the highway” legislature.
South Dakota Speaker of the House Representative Brian Gosch, (R-Rapid City) last year at the Newspaper Day at the Legislature news conference denied there was teacher shortage. When he was called out on the comment, he said in school districts in his part of the country they were laying teachers off. When asked if that was not because there was an abundance of teachers, but perhaps because the district had to cut back because of lack of adequate state aid, he all but told the reporters in the room they didn’t know what they were talking about. In fact, he was so condescending to those newspaper people in that room, it felt like he decided we weren’t to be bother with.
It is that attitude that lets the doubt creep into minds of South Dakotans that the governor can get what he proposed.
It is great to have legislators who look out for the good tax-payers of our state, but when legislators approve increases in spending for their pet projects and turn their backs on the needs of everyone in the state, that is not taking care of the people of South Dakota. We need our legislators to put South Dakota children ahead of their political party. We need our legislators to view this proposal without the blinders of what is best for their political party.
The governor’s speech included the admission that South Dakota needs to lift teacher pay to maintain student achievement. It was refreshing to hear that kind of candid speech from a Republican governor of a very Republican state.
“This is the year to act,” he said.
One can only hope there is enough courage in our legislators to act on this proposal and take South Dakota in the right direction.
-Katie Zerr –