South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard has signed legislation that adds a half cent to the state sales tax to support higher teachers' salaries.
Daugaard says in a news release that the goal of the tax hike is to boost the average teacher salary in the state to $48,500 from about $40,000. In addition, some of the revenue from the tax increase is earmarked for property tax relief.
The governor thanked legislators for working with him to raise taxes.
"South Dakota will no longer be in last place for teacher pay and we will be able to better compete with our surrounding states,” Daugaard says. “This is going to make all the difference for our students whose achievement depends upon a good workforce of teachers.”
The South Dakota Education Association (SDEA) says addressing teachers' low salaries was long overdue.
"Finally, after four decades of ranking at the very bottom, lawmakers acknowledged that this is no longer acceptable," the association said in a statement on its web page.
The National Education Association's Rankings & Estimates showed that for 2013-14, South Dakota's average teacher salary—$40,023—ranked 51st out of all states and Washington, D.C.
The SDEA says the sales tax increase is projected to generate $67 million for K-12 education. South Dakota had not raised the state sales tax since 1969.
Local school districts set their own salary schedules for teachers, but the new law mandates that districts use at least 85 percent of the new funds for teacher pay or benefits.
The governor also approved other education reform legislation. One law increases the transparency and accountability of the state's education funding formula and imposes new caps on district's general reserve funds and on the growth of capital outlay levies.
Another new law is designed to help school systems recruit and retain more teachers.