Education for the Next Generation: A Plan for a Brighter South Dakota Future

It didn’t take long after my accident in 2007 for me to take a mental inventory of what I still had after I was paralyzed: I still had my strong support system of family and friends, I still had my faith, and I still had my education and ability to solve problems. In that moment, I realized just how important of an investment education really is. When my Plan A was taken from me, I still had a bright path forward. I believe every student in our great state deserves that positive outlook on their future. When I look into the eyes of my two-year-old son, Liam, I recognize exactly the kind of bright tomorrows we must build for the next generations. Starting in early childhood and throughout their adult lives, South Dakotans deserve world-class educational opportunities to ensure bright futures for our state and its families.

-Senator Billie Sutton

Early Childhood

Education, at every level, is an investment in our future. Yet, South Dakota is one of a handful of states that doesn’t provide any state support for preschool, creating a gap in our student success rate. The economic gain is nearly unmatchable, as every dollar invested in early childhood education realizes a $7-$13 gain. The return on public investment goes beyond just economic gains: creating better students; more efficient public schools; and reduced expenses associated with grade retention, special education, and incarceration. We have the opportunity to take the best practices from other states around us to build a program that propels us to a higher caliber of education in South Dakota, for all our future. One of Billie’s top priorities as governor will be to conduct a study of the needs for early childhood education in our state. Once we have a better understanding of the need in South Dakota, Billie will look for ways to re-prioritize state spending so that funding is available for programs like early childhood education that will pay off well into the future.


As parents, we aim to create a better life for our children, giving them every advantage possible. In our K-12 education system, those advantages start with good schools and good teachers. In 2016, Billie served on the Blue Ribbon Task Force to work to raise teacher pay in South Dakota. The Task Force resulted in the state raising South Dakota teachers’ salaries up from last in the nation, which is a small victory. Unfortunately, South Dakota still remains last in our region in teacher pay, and we have more work to do in order to be competitive with neighboring states in retaining and recruiting the best teachers for our youngest South Dakotans. We also have more work to do in improving the new funding formula to ensure that we use research and data to treat schools of all sizes fairly.

Competitive teacher pay is just one way Billie will look to address the teacher shortage in South Dakota; he’ll also work to create a tuition reimbursement program for teachers who work in underserved communities after earning their degree. Billie will also support educators by increasing flexibility for school districts so that teachers and administrators can best serve the needs of their students and communities.

As governor, Billie will also work with high schools, both urban and rural, to make sure our students are prepared for their next steps after graduation. Finding innovative and collaborative ways to give our schools the resources to offer opportunities to college-bound students as well as students more interested in technical and career training options, will be one of Billie’s top priorities. Billie will work with educators to develop tech experiences for our students and explore more ways students can earn high school and college dual credit while gaining work experience in the community.

Higher Education

An overwhelming majority of good-paying jobs in our state require some sort of post-secondary education, but that achievement is becoming increasingly difficult to afford, especially for working families struggling to make ends meet. In all of the US, only two states give less to their students in need than we do. We struggle to even begin to compete with our neighbors:  South Dakota provides a dismal $11.85 per Pell grant eligible student. Iowa provides almost $700 to each undergraduate receiving a Pell Grant, Minnesota provides $1,600, and Wyoming provides over $2,200. At the same time, tuition costs continue to rise at our universities and tech schools alike. South Dakota is now home to the most expensive tech schools in the region and has the second highest price tag for 4-year universities among surrounding states.

Before we fall even further behind and lose our students to other states, we need to make efforts to ensure our students can afford an education in South Dakota. Billie will work to increase funding for needs-based scholarships and mitigate costs of education at state schools. An educated workforce benefits the entire state’s economy in addition to individual student’s earning potential, and Billie’s work to make higher education less expensive will ensure every student who wants to work toward a brighter future for South Dakota can afford the opportunity.

Lifelong Learners

As an integral piece of workforce development, education is important to more than just our young people. To continue toward a brighter future, South Dakota must be a place where anyone looking to sharpen their skills and knowledge can afford the opportunity to do so. It’s more and more common that a person will change careers several times throughout their lives, and our state wins as South Dakotans climb the ladder and brighten their families’ future with better education and a better job. As governor, Billie will work to make educational opportunities accessible and affordable for people in all life’s stages by forging public-private partnerships and increasing access to scholarships. He will encourage and foster creative education and training options like satellite classes, effective online degrees, and apprenticeship programs for non-traditional students looking to get a degree or change jobs.