Will Senate Bill 132 Help Lure Teachers to Struggling Districts in South Dakota?

Last week, I wrote about the need for state government to offer incentives to help attract new teachers, especially on South Dakota reservations. On Wednesday, Lawmakers took an important step, passing a bill that will allow school districts to recruit teachers by providing certain financial incentives.

Senate Bill 132 will allow school boards to pay signing bonuses, provide moving expenses, and tuition reimbursement to potential teachers.

After the bill passed, Wade Pogany, the Executive Director of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota, told South Dakota Public Radio this is a crucial step and will give school boards have the option to negotiate in order to attract better teachers to struggling districts.

“The reason we brought the bill was that by current Department of Labor actions, there was a case in Todd County, that said in order to do the things that we’re asking to do (improve staff) you have to negotiate them,” Pogany said. “And one of my arguments was that at the beginning of the year, you’re trying to find that teacher (to fill openings), you need to make an offer to that teacher, we need the flexibility in order to do that.”

For every 10 job openings the Todd County School District, it only receives eight applicants. The South Dakota Department of Education has stated that one of its top priorities is to close the achievement gap between Native American students and non-native students.

But, this legislation is just one small step in the grand scheme of trying to close the achievement gap. The graduation rate for all students in South Dakota is 83.16 percent, but for American Indian students it is 46.65 percent.

While this will give school boards some room for negotiation, there will still be tremendous challenges in attracting the best and the brightest teachers until salaries for teachers in South Dakota (the lowest in the nation) see a dramatic increase. Graduating students will simply choose other states in which to pursue a career.

The state legislature passed an amended version of a bill. The original language said that these payments may not be negotiated with the teacher’s designated collective bargaining representative. The bill was amended to say that a school district may, but is not required to negotiate the incentives. It passed the House Education Committee with a vote of eleven to three.

By Jake Nordbye, Guest Blogger