This week, the legislative session reached its half-way point. Legislators are working hard as they consider bills on a wide range of topics.
Education funding is a major topic of discussion this year. At the beginning of session, I offered a plan to increase teacher pay and to reform the school funding formula. My plan is based on proposals made by the Blue Ribbon Task Force, which met throughout the past year.
We all know that the key to a good education is a great teacher, and that’s why the public strongly supports increasing teacher salaries. I’ve been pleased to receive supportive comments from many South Dakotans. They understand South Dakota teacher pay must be competitive with other states if we want to recruit a new generation of great teachers.
Many legislators and other taxpayers have told me that they will support my plan, which includes a half-cent sales tax increase, if they have confidence that the money will get to teachers. They do not want the new funding to be spent on other things.
I agree with that. The funding formula bill I proposed, Senate Bill 131, includes a section that requires at least 90 percent of new funding to go directly to salaries and benefits for teachers. I understand that schools have other needs, but the goal of the Blue Ribbon Task Force was to increase teacher pay. That is the problem we are trying to solve.
Legislators are discussing additional ideas to ensure that new funding goes to teacher pay, and I am open to those ideas. I am confident that we can direct these dollars to the teachers, so that every legislator with this concern can vote for the proposal. School leaders have also told me that they support these accountability measures – they understand that education’s greatest need is to increase teacher salaries, and they want to demonstrate that they are directing new dollars to this need.
The plan I offered to the Legislature includes three bills: Senate Bill 131, Senate Bill 133 and House Bill 1182. All three will be working their way through the legislative process in the coming weeks. The legislative process can be confusing or frustrating, but it is designed to give legislators time to consider and discuss these important issues.
We can be proud that our legislative process is also very open – every bill receives a full public hearing, and any South Dakotan can offer testimony or offer feedback. Whatever your view of my plan, or of the many other bills currently before the Legislature, I encourage all South Dakotans to stay informed about and engaged in the important work being done in Pierre.