Simplified: The Sioux Falls School District's top priorities for state lawmakers in 2024 are more money for teachers, as well as the safety and well-being of students. Here's a look at what else they want to see in Pierre next session.

Why it matters

  • About one-third of the state's budget goes to fund schools, and each year, South Dakota lawmakers debate dozens (if not hundreds) of bills related to the education system.
  • The Sioux Falls School District is by far the largest district in the state with more than 24,000 K-12 students.
  • The priority that comes up again and again for S.D. schools is funding. Most of schools' budgets go to fund teacher salaries, and in an increasingly competitive workforce, Sioux Falls Superintendent Jane Stavem said it's going to take more money.
"If we’re going to be competitive for compensating the people who are in the classroom and working to support our children, we've got a long way to go," Stavem said in a school board work session last week.

Tell me more

Business Manager Todd Vik on Monday shared some data with school board members to put teacher salaries into a broader context.

Dating back to 2017, the first budget year where schools saw payouts from South Dakota's historic half-cent sales tax increase, Vik shared how salaries have changed.

Since 2017:

  • The state aid to schools has increased 18.3%.
  • Teacher salaries statewide have increased 20.4%.
  • Salaries in the private workforce have increased 31.6%.
"While state aid increases have been good the last couple of years," Vik said, "we're still not even coming up within two-thirds of what the private workforce is doing with their salaries."

Besides money, what's on Sioux Falls schools' wish list?

Student safety

Another top priority in the district is addressing the increasing number of students who need significant interventions for behavioral and mental health needs.

  • Right now, kids need more resources than what's available, Business Manager Todd Vik said, and that's causing problems in the classroom.

The district is also asking the state to do more to improve the juvenile justice system, including more funding and more effective diversion programs.

Early childhood education and childcare

New on the priority list this year is childcare. Stavem said the need for childcare is taking on more prominence in the community, and it's impacting teachers, too.

"If our teachers are going to find childcare ... we have to prioritize those things that help drive economic stability," Stavem said.

Student lunches

During the pandemic, student lunches were paid by the federal government. This year, that's no longer the case, and the district is concerned by mounting student lunch debt.

  • Sioux Falls Rep. Kadyn Wittman has also already shared plans to bring a bill that would provide free lunches to all kids in schools.

Career and Technical Education (CTE) support

Stavem also noted the need to fund materials and staff to support CTE in the district.

"It's getting harder and harder to find really qualified people to teach in our career and technical education pathways because you can get paid a lot more not being a teacher," Stavem said.

ACT for all 11th graders

The district would also like to see the state's standardized Smarter Balanced test replaced with the ACT for 11th graders.

What happens next?

Lawmakers will convene in January in Pierre to plan the next budget, debate law changes and hear more from schools along the way.