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S.D. Governor Signs New Teacher Evaluation Law

by guest blogger Andrew Ujifusa

The state teachers' union in South Dakota said it plans to fight a new evaluation law signed by the state's governor on March 13 that will eventually eliminate state teacher tenure provisions, and that will award bonuses to top teachers based on student achievement.

Many of the reforms in the new state law give flexibility to local districts on issues such as bonuses and tenure.

The new law signed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard, a Republican, allows districts to set up local bonus programs for their top-performing teachers. Districts can use a state proposal to award $5,000 bonuses annually beginning in the 2014-15 school year to top teachers based on various evaluation measures of student progress, such as student achievement or teacher leadership. Districts will be allocated $1,000 from the state per teacher to structure their bonus programs the way they choose.

In addition, the law allocates funds specifically to recognize math and sciences teachers by awarding $2,500 bonuses annually to teachers in those subjects who are labeled as "distinguished" or "proficient" based on their performance on the new statewide evaluation system.

School districts will be allowed to create their own bonus system for high-performing teachers with funds from the state, or opt out of any bonus system altogether

In addition, the bill creates a college scholarship program beginning in 2013 to pay for 100 juniors and seniors if they are pursuing teaching degrees in areas deemed critical, such as science and math, provided that they agree to teach for five years in a South Dakota school.

Finally, the state will eliminate teacher tenure protections from its laws for all teachers hired on or after July 1, 2016. Teachers hired before that date will still be protected.
And local districts will also have the option of continuing tenure protections for teachers without the backing of state law.

The total cost of the legislation for the state is $15 million.

"The law is the product of a lengthy discussion in the Legislature, and lots of input from educators and constituents," Daugaard said in a March 13 statement.

But Sandy Arseneault, president of the South Dakota Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, said teachers will be looking to put the plan to a statewide vote. The union contends it will not improve student achievement.

The SDEA praised the college scholarship program in the plan, but also argued last month that the plan wrongly "mandates a one-size fits all statewide evaluation system."

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