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Monday, March 30, 2009

New Mexico, Alaska Work to Boost Small Schools; Lessons for South Dakota?

South Dakota's 2009 Legislature went rounds about school consolidation again. It also considered responding to the budget shortfall by freezing state aid to schools (the stimulus let us go for the standard 3% increase).

Let us for a moment compare educational goings-on in a couple other states:
  • In the midst of the same recession South Dakota is in, New Mexico gave serious consideration to a new funding formula that would have increased state education aid 15%. The biggest increases would have gone to "smaller districts serving the poorest, most rural, communities, those with large percentages of Hispanic and Native American students, and those with high proportions of English Language Learners." The money would have come from increases in the gross receipts tax and income tax. Those measures passed the House before the NM business lobby rallied to kill those ideas in the Senate.
  • Another proposal before the New Mexico Legislature would have set a maximum size for new schools built with state money. Still big by SD standards—225 students max for high schools, 60 students max for kindergartens—but an acknowledgment from another state with big rural populations that bigger isn't always better. But South Dakota consolidation pushers, take heart: Think New Mexico, the group who proposed the bill, says the most effective high school size is 600–900 students; the most efficient schools enroll 300–900. The bill passed the Senate but appears to have hung up in the House.
  • North to Alaska: In February Judge Sharon Gleason ruled Alaska was failing to fulfill its Constitutional obligation to provide sufficient education to kids in poor rural schools. The judge gave the state 60 days to straighten out that situation... during which time the governor rejected $172 million in federal stimulus assistance for schools... $74 million of which was designated for poor schools and special-needs kids. (You know, special needs kids, the ones the governor promised to advocate for if elected Vice-President. She wasn't elected VP, so I guess she's off the hook.)


  1. CAH:

    Just to play a bit of devils advocate here:

    1. How do we know that more funds will lead to better education? We don't have a quantitative tool to analyze the cost/benefit ratio.

    2. Why do we assume higher pay = better teachers? Right now pay is at the low end of the spectrum so we have either altruistic teachers or those without other options. If we increase pay won't we just grab those looking for more dollars. Why are the dollar chasers better?

    3. The main argument I keep hearing about pay for performance in teaching is that there are too many variables we regard to academic achievement. For example, Tom teachers in the suburbs and has a class full of kids without family problems so they naturally do better than Sally who teaches in the inner city where the kids have all kinds of problems. Therefore paying for performance is essentially a lottery. To me, this argument essentially says that it doesn't matter what the teacher does so why pay more for it?

    We have another snow day here.

  2. In response to Tony, playing devils advocate:
    1) Here we go again with twisted justifications to not fund education. Using just one example, the student laptop initiative was strongly supported by the Governor and DOE but only partially funded.... and now even that level of support is gone. They made the case that this program would improve education but now we can't afford it. Oh well!

    2. Why do we take such perverse pleasure in the concept of teachers taking a "vow of poverty" in South Dakota? There are some perhaps too who are motivated to go into medicine because of the money- does this make them bad doctors? South Dakota has the lowest teacher pay in the nation, but by addressing this we will only succeed in attracting "dollar chasers". Pathetic.

    3. Pay for performance is fine but let's first address some sort of reasonable salary "floor" that's comparable to other states. Our University professors and misc. city and state employees have pay scales subject to regional comparisons and adjustments.
    Can anyone explain why this is necessary to do for all of these other groups but somehow not applicable to our public school teachers?

  3. Rambling Supt goes where I was planning: we can address the question of a moral wage before we get anywhere near the question of pay for performance. A teacher deserves a decent professsional wage that can support a family without supplement. Monthly, that's family health insurance ($1000), modest mortgage ($500), groceries ($300), utilities ($250), transportation ($150?), taxes ($400), savings for college and retirement ($300)... that's $2900, and I'm not leaving much wiggle room. That's $34,800... which is around the average SD teacher pay... which means we're paying a lot of teachers (and probably every teacher in Rutland) less than a pretty basic living wage. Pretty poor return on a college degree and continuing education.

    I'd say we have a Christian obligation to pay people a decent wage... but people get mad when I get all religious. ;-)


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