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Teachers in South Dakota scrambled to pick up $1 bills in a hockey game sideshow

Federal Register

Schoolteachers grabbed at dollar bills in a "dash for cash" during intermission at a hockey game in South Dakota, sparking controversy for turning teachers' need to pay for classroom supplies into a public spectacle.

"As a teacher, I find this humiliating," a commenter wrote after video of the event was posted to Twitter. "Scrambling against others on the ground for a few $1 bills? How about honoring teachers with genuine donations rather than turning us into silly entertainment for fans?"

The Sioux Falls Stampede hockey team had urged fans not to miss Saturday's contest, which it promoted as its inaugural "Dash for Cash." With fans cheering them on, 10 teachers from local schools gathered around a large piece of carpet at center ice, where $5,000 in $1 bills had just been dumped out.

The event highlighted South Dakota's low teacher pay

The educators wore hockey helmets, but they made little contact with each other as they dropped to their knees to scoop up money and stuff it into their shirts and pockets.

Video of the event went viral over the weekend after reporter Annie Todd of the Sioux Falls Argus Leader posted it on Twitter.

The hockey team did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NPR.

South Dakota ranks toward the bottom in terms of spending on education. The average salary for teachers in the state is $48,984 — 50th in the U.S. (in a list that includes Washington, D.C.) — according to the National Education Association union, which says the state spends $10,805 per student — 38th in the nation.

One critic of the dash for cash promotion called it "dystopian," noting that while schools and teachers struggle, the U.S. House of Representatives just approved a new U.S. military bill worth $768 billion. The defense authorization bill includes money for two more destroyers than the Biden administration requested.

The teachers went for the money, not at each other

The Stampede, a junior league team whose players are 16-20 years old, said all the money the teachers could grab would be used for their own classrooms or school programs.

As for the teachers who took part in the promotion, it might not come as a surprise that they gamely tolerated the hoopla, while focusing on what they can do for their students. When the dash ended, they smiled and waved to the crowd, their shirts bulging with cash.

"I think it's really cool when the community offers an opportunity like this" to pay for things that usually come out of a teacher's own pocket, said Alexandria Kuyper, who teaches fifth-graders, in an interview with the Argus Leader.

Kuyper came away with $592, one of the highest totals, according to the newspaper. The smallest hauls were just under $380. Money for the contest was donated by home lender CU Mortgage Direct.

The sponsor said it saw the dash as a way to help educators, noting the additional stresses brought on by the pandemic.

"The teachers in this area, and any teacher, they deserve whatever the heck they get," Ryan Knudson, CU Mortgage Direct's director of business development and marketing, told the Argus Leader.

The Stampede also put $5,000 up for grabs at Sunday's home game, pitting two fans against one another in a shootout on the ice.

South Dakota is looking to boost teacher pay

Last week, Gov. Kristi Noem proposed a 6% increase in state aid for public education, a move that the state's teachers union welcomed.

The money should go directly to teachers and staff, Noem said, citing the challenges they face and the need to compete in a tight hiring market. But the South Dakota Education Association also notes that if state lawmakers approve the increase in their upcoming session, it will still be up to school districts to choose where and how to use the additional funds.

South Dakota's public school system receives nearly 14% of its revenue from the federal government — one of the highest percentages in the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.