Support expressed for K-12, higher ed by David Lias Candidates vying for election from District 17 to the South Dakota Legislature told a forum on higher education Wednesday at The University of South Dakota that they all believe education should be a higher priority in the state.
House candidate B.J. Nesselhuf, a Democrat, said he finds it distressing that last year's Legislature only increased education funding by 1.7 percent for this year, while the rest of the state budget received a 5 percent raise.
"I decided to get involved because I worked at the Legislature last year and saw a lot of good people make poor decisions," he said.
It's time that South Dakota begins to treat educators with more respect, said Maxine Johnson, Democratic District 17 House candidate from Vermillion.
"We need to respect our teachers and treat them as professionals," she said. "Salaries are higher in other states. I believe we need to help teachers with some student loan forgiveness of some kind on a declining basis."
Republican Rep. Judy Clark, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, told the forum she has been an influential voice in Pierre. She ticked off a number of accomplishments in her short two years in Pierre, but said she's not finished working for District 17.
South Dakota is in the third year of a three-year plan to raise salaries and boost programs at state universities, she said. "A lot of good things were funded, but there also were a lot of cuts. We need to figure out another plan for raising university salaries."
Clark also favors increasing funding to school districts by increasing payments on a per pupil basis through a state grant from excess revenue in the state budget.
"I am an advocate of education," Republican Rep. H. Junior Engbrecht, Marion, said. "Three years ago, South Dakota university professors were the lowest paid in the nation. I think only North Dakota is below us now. This is a disgrace. A good professor, a good teacher, should be well-salaried."
District 17 Sen. Joe Reedy, a Vermillion Democrat, noted that South Dakota is beginning to experience a teacher shortage. He added, however, that education isn't the only profession that is suffering in the state.
"After having conversations with hospital representatives recently, it appears we also have a shortage of nurses," he said. "Maybe we have to think about giving everyone a tuition break if we want them to stay in the state."
Reedy's challenger, Donna Schafer, a Vermillion Republican, said education is a primary theme of her campaign.
"We need to increase funding or we're going to lose what we have," she said. "We haven't made South Dakota's education system a high priority."
She supports Amendment E, which, if approved, would allow money from the permanent school fund to be invested in stocks and similar investments.
"We could have more money for education if we could invest it in a better way," she said.
The forum was hosted by the USD Council of Higher Education. Libertarian candidate Jason Eisenmenger, Vermillion, did not participate.