Funding Level Divides Legislators, Districts
The following offers highlights of the recent legislative sessions. Precollegiate enrollment figures are based on fall 2006 data reported by state officials for public elementary and secondary schools. The figures for precollegiate education spending do not include federal flow-through funds, unless noted.
Increases in school funding by the South Dakota legislature this winter did little to dampen complaints by school districts that education remains underfunded in the state.
Though lawmakers hiked the state’s formula aid for schools by $23.7 million, a 3.8 percent increase, for fiscal 2008, education groups argued that the actual increase will be lower because the legislature did not renew $6.5 million in “one-time” budget money that it gave to school districts last year.
They point out that the state’s teachers are paid the least in the nation—$34,039 on average, compared with the national average of $47,602—according to a national salary survey released by the American Federation of Teachers in March.
About 70 school districts are suing the state, contending that its funding system is inadequate and violates the state constitution.
For 2008, the K-12 budget totals $386.8 million, or 34 percent of the overall state budget of $1.14 billion.
In addition to the state formula, the budget includes other special funding that legislators directed toward K-12 education in the 2007 legislative session, which ended in mid-March, such as a matching program for teacher-compensation assistance, proposed by Gov. Michael Rounds, a Republican, and authorized at $4 million annually for five years. Eligible purposes include signing bonuses or compensating teachers for attending professional-development programs or working on the curriculum.
Gov. Rounds also approved a measure requiring consolidation of school districts in 2009 that do not enroll a minimum of 100 students, with exceptions for districts in “sparse” areas.
Another bill backed by Gov. Rounds requires students to stay in school until age 18, unless they have graduated from high school.
Lawmakers also approved the creation of a state virtual school, which will offer school districts and students more than 60 classes by next fall.
Vol. 26, Issue 41, Page 21