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September27

Getting back to $4,805

One meeting likely remains in the legislative interim study of school funding. And while the results of the study remain murky, one solution is nearly universal among the K-12 education community: we need to get back to $4,805.

 

The number signifies the state’s per-student allocation highpoint, which was provided for the 2010-11 school year before the massive 8.6 percent cut to funding that dropped the PSA to $4,309.

 

Legislators approved a three percent increase to the PSA and one percent in one-time dollars for the 2013-14 school year. The increases – both to the PSA and in one-time dollars – equaled approximately $180 per student for a total of approximately $23 million in additional dollars spent.

 

A return to the PSA highpoint would require a $179 increase per-student for a total of $22.9 million.

 

The need for an increase in state funding is apparent as more school districts are forced to turn to their local taxpayers to help shore up their general fund through opt-outs – more than 60 districts utilized the option last year – or use the of the capital outlay flexibility provision, which has ballooned from $1 million flexed in 2009 to $15 million flexed in 2012.

 

Even more concerning is the lack of funding’s effect on recruiting and keeping teachers.

 

“Our biggest challenge is a shrinking pool of teaching applicants. We’re losing them and we will continue to lose them,” Milbank Superintendent Tim Graf testified at Monday’s (Sept. 23) committee meeting.

 

“I believe our students are at risk.”

 

Harrisburg Superintendent Jim Holbeck said South Dakota, which ranks last in the nation in average teacher salary, is approximately $3,000 behind the next lowest state in pay.

 

“It’s not a lack of resources, it’s a lack of will,” Holbeck testified. “If you don’t adequately fund schools you’re not going to get the caliber of teachers you want.”

 

A figure that would multiply problems for districts emerged last month when the CPI-W increase was estimated at only 1.6 percent, which could be the minimum increase for the PSA by state law.

 

An increase of 1.6 percent would net districts a mere $74 per student for a total increase of approximately $9.5 million – a decrease of more than $13 million from last year.

 

“That won’t help our schools,” Sen. Chuck Welke (2) said. “We’re starving our schools to death and it’s time we take some action.”

 

Good news came by way of a proposed recommendation to raise the PSA to $4,805. The committee will discuss recommendations from the study at the final meeting scheduled for Monday, Oct. 21 in Pierre.

 

“We should get K-12 education back (to its high point),” ASBSD Executive Director Wade Pogany testified. “We’ve got to have (dollars) consistent that our schools can plan for.”

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