Published September 1, 2002 | September 2002 issue
South Dakota pays its teachers less than any other state in the country. South Dakota teachers earned an average salary of $30,265 in 2000-01; the national average is $43,250.
Not that the state isn't improving. New teachers got 4.8 percent raises between 1999 and 2000, above the 4.1 percent national average, so beginning teachers weren't at the national nadir (Montana and North Dakota held that distinction). Also, South Dakota has the lowest per capita tax burden in the nation, and adjusting for taxes helps slightly. According to the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, subtracting the per capita tax from the average teacher salary boosts South Dakota's position from 51st to 50th lowest tax-adjusted teacher salary. North Dakota sits last.
The low tax burden, though, is a major factor in increasingly tight school budgets. Lack of a state income tax and a 30 percent cut in property taxes in the late 1990s has squeezed local school districts, many of which are appealing to voters to support special funding "opt-out" bills that would raise revenues specifically for schools.