Students will start seeing red next week–red shirts, worn by students, faculty and community members to represent education students who are in the red, as they rally in support of higher teacher salaries in the state of South Dakota.
The average salary of a public school teacher in South Dakota is $39,018, plummeting the state to dead last in the U.S. for teacher salary. This is only about half of the state of New York which sits at the top at $75,279 per year, according to data released for 2012-2013 by the National Education Association.
“We are concerned about student debt…but our main concern is teacher salary,” said Mary Moeller, faculty adviser for the Student National Education Association.
The low teacher salary not only impacts current teachers but SDSU education students and their plans for their future careers.
“I put so much time and money into my education and I don’t regret it for one minute, but why stay in South Dakota when there are places that offer better pay and better benefits,” Hannah Harrison, president of SNEA, said.
Other universities and colleges have more students in their education programs in part due to the opportunity for more money, Harrison said.
“A lot of people say to me ‘why go to school at SDSU and get a licensure for South Dakota?’… a majority of the people here are not going to teach here,” Harrison said.
The rally will raise awareness not only of the issue of low teacher salary in the state of South Dakota, but of student debt. Students leave school with degrees, but are in a large amount of debt that is difficult to pay off due to low salary, Moeller said.
“I think the rally needs to happen at SDSU…pay for teachers needs to be increased…with the salary now I wouldn’t be able to pay off my degree in Early Childhood Education,” said Mackenzie Gough, sophomore and executive board member of SNEA.
According to Moeller, the rally serves as an opportunity to give the students a voice and pushes them to advocate for themselves.
“I’ve been hoping my students would be politically aware…Teachers need to advocate for themselves…I know of no other time when the teacher education students have rallied behind an issue like this,” Moeller said.
The SNEA has worked hard over the last couple of months to put together the rally, set to begin at noon on The Union Market Stage, Feb. 19. Students will be asked to fill out their total amount of debt on a ‘dollar bill.’ The group will then average out the amount of debt students leave school with and compare it to average salary, Harrison said.
“Most of our teacher education students are passionate to serve…it really becomes an equity issue,” Moeller said.
ne result of South Dakota’s low teacher salary is the shortage of teachers state-wide. The number of upcoming teachers does not match the number of open teaching positions open across the state, Moeller said.
“When you have a border town, they can go right across the border and make more,” Moeller said.
In many of Moeller’s classes, only a minority of students intend to stay in the state to teach following graduation. There is a high possibility that students will instead choose to move out of state or travel across a border to teach, Moeller said.
“Many of our teachers are tied to a location …they might be tied into a location for some reason…every school in the state has had and has excellent teachers,” Moeller said. “It is a matter of those students who are mobile…I don’t know why we would expect them to stay around.”
At the rally, teacher education students will speak as well as a teacher from the community, Moeller said.
For students like Gough, money is not top priority. “We go to get an education to become a teacher and money shouldn’t be the biggest priority, but we should get enough money to pay our loans off,” Gough said.
Following the rally, on Feb. 25 and 26, teacher education students will make a trip to Pierre to bring the issue to the attention of the legislature, Harrison said.
“If nobody sees the value in it nobody is going to come and I see a huge value in it and that’s where it gets really tough, because I have to get others to see that perspective,” Harrison said.