Saturday, February 15, 2014

Increasing Education Funding Is Not Throwing Money at a Problem

Today at the legislative coffee with District 6 Senator Ernie Otten and Representative Herman Otten, I asked Senator Otten about his vote against his vote against HCR 1002 (which passed the House on a vote of 49-18).  When you read the whereas statements you see facts about the difficulties in finding and maintaining teachers in part to the low wages offered by the state.  The facts of the teacher shortage are not in dispute (although some argue it is not because we rank 51st in the nation).  The (non-binding) resolution ends with the following resolved statements:
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, by the House of Representatives of the Eighty-Ninth Legislature of the State of South Dakota, the Senate concurring therein, that the South Dakota Legislature recognizes that teachers are in short supply in this state, and that school districts of all sizes are now struggling to retain qualified teachers and to fill teacher vacancies;and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this Legislature joins school officials in acknowledging that teachers are a highly valued resource in this state, and in exploring tuition reimbursement programs and other programs or policies that could help attract more good people into the teaching profession in South Dakota, and to keep the good teachers that are already here. 
I had brought the question up to Mr. Otten once before and the answer did leave me a bit confused.  His response is that local schools set the wages, but if the schools are limited in their funding from the state (property taxes can not be used to pay salaries) and that funding is zero or one percent, how can schools increase salaries?  This logic baffles me, and I wish I would have brought it up in that way, but I did not want to enter a full-blown debate over one issue.  He said that he just didn't want to get forced into having to spend more tax-payer money or raise taxes to pay for it if he signed on; however, no where in the resolution does it say that we must increase taxes.  The real reason came about later in discussion about other educational issues.  

The comment made by Herman Otten (in an unrelated topic of Teach for America and the increased funding for students out west and on the Reservation lands.) was "throwing money at the problem is not a solution."  Ernie Otten in essence said the same about increasing education funding.  He stated that if education gets 3% this year, they will want 3% next year.  "Education will always want more money."  When your teachers are paid 51st in the nation because the state has avoided making it a priority for decades, then yes, it will be about the money for a long time.

He also stated that it may have been a better political move to vote yes on the bill, but he just didn't want to get boxed in on the position.  Recognizing that "teachers are a highly valued resource in this state" should not be about fears of getting boxed in on spending money, it is a simple show of respect.  The same level of recognizing Tea basketball for winning their regions or the excellent work of a young music educator in your district.  Making funding of education a priority in South Dakota is not "throwing money at a problem." It is acknowledging the importance of education and getting it to a base level to maintain a system that is desired because if you don't, you may end up wondering how will our children get effective education when there is no one left to teach them.

No comments:

Post a Comment