Lawmakers say education needs more than just money

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PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota's superintendents say schools are struggling to fill open positions mainly because of low teacher pay, while policymakers suggest a solution to the teacher shortage isn't simple and the problem won't be fixed with funding alone.

On Wednesday, the School Administrators of South Dakota released the results of a survey filled out by more than 90 percent of the state's public school administrators. More than 20 percent of the superintendents said they had unfilled teaching positions on the first day of class, half said they had four or fewer candidates for open positions and a third said applicants turned down a job offer because of a low salary.

Some legislators, education advocates and the governor's office then weighed in on how the state should proceed.

Rep. Jacqueline Sly, R-Rapid City, who taught for many years at different schools around the state, said working to fix the shortage of qualified teachers requires more than just more money.

"We need to be looking at how do we pay teachers well and have them trained so that they are high-quality teachers; and giving them support when they are in our school system," Sly said. "We have a big picture thing rather just one part of it (to look at)."

Education advocates and school officials have been petitioning legislators to address the teacher shortage. A group of education officials recently suggested creating a 1-cent summer sales tax to go toward increasing teacher salaries.

Legislators and the governor's office expressed mixed views about that idea.

Sly, House Education committee chairwoman, said a sales tax increase was a possibility but should probably go to a public vote.

Tony Venhuizen, a spokesman for Gov. Dennis Daugaard, said the governor has opposed raising taxes in the past and would be skeptical about the success of a proposal this year.

"There's a political reality," he said. "Not even his position, but would that be something that would be supported by the Legislature or by the public?"

Venhuizen and Rep. Tessa Hawks, D-Hartford, both said the state could look to funding like the Critical Needs scholarship that reward students who commit to teaching in critical areas of the state in exchange for tuition.

"I was a science teacher, so I was granted several loan forgiveness programs because I taught in a high-needs area in a high-needs school," Hawks said. "So expanding that to other fields of teaching would be a good start to creating some incentive programs for teachers."

Several also acknowledged that the state's role is important but limited. Staffing levels and salaries are determined at the local level, Venhuizen said.

"Particularly in some small districts we see they're making decisions to keep larger staffs, to keep their staffing levels higher rather than to use the money to pay fewer teachers more," he said.

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