By Faith Karimi and Bill Kirkos, CNN
An unusual promotional giveaway at a hockey game in South Dakota saw a group of schoolteachers competing for a pile of cash by scrambling on their hands and knees to grab fistfuls of dollar bills.
The inaugural “Dash for Cash” event at Saturday’s Sioux Falls Stampede junior hockey game featured 10 local teachers on a rug at center ice, scooping up $5,000 in donated $1 bills and stuffing them into their shirts and pockets. The promotion encouraged teachers to collect as much money as they could to help fund their classroom projects.
Then came the backlash.
Video of the teachers jostling to grab dollar bills has sparked outrage nationwide, with some critics saying the stunt turned schoolteachers’ chronic funding shortages into a public spectacle. Others have compared it to “Squid Game,” the South Korean TV series about desperate people who compete in deadly children’s games to win money.
“Teachers should never have to grovel for money that’s needed for classroom improvements,” South Dakota state Rep. Erin Healy told CNN affiliate KSFY. “It really just shows how truly broken our system is.”
The president of the state’s teachers’ union echoed a similar sentiment.
“While the Dash for the Cash may have been well-intentioned, it only underscores the fact that educators don’t have the resources necessary to meet the needs of their students,” Loren Paul of the South Dakota Education Association told CNN.
“As a state, we shouldn’t be forcing teachers to crawl around on an ice rink to get the money they need to fund their classrooms. We need to do better for our educators, but, more importantly, we must do better for our students.”
The event’s organizers have apologized
The event was organized by the Sioux Falls Stampede, who compete in the amateur United States Hockey League, in partnership with local lender CU Mortgage.
In a statement, organizers said the promotion aimed to raise funds for area teachers and their classrooms. They said they received 31 applications from teachers and randomly selected 10 to take part in the event.
“Each teacher was profiled and introduced prior to the event as we highlighted their school and what the funds would be used for,” the statement said. “Although our intent was to provide a positive and fun experience for teachers, we can see how it appears to be degrading and insulting towards the participating teachers and the teaching profession as a whole.
“We deeply regret and apologize to all teachers for any embarrassment this may have caused.”
South Dakota ranks low in teacher pay
South Dakota ranks near the bottom of US states in teacher pay with an average annual salary of $49,000 — behind only Mississippi, according to figures from the National Education Association for the 2019-2020 school year.
Teachers spend about $750 a year out of their own pockets for classroom supplies and related expenses, Paul said, adding that the state has a teacher shortage.
Just last week, Gov. Kristi Noem proposed a 6% raise for educators in the state.
“We can’t invest in our workforce without supporting the hard workers that we already have here, and that includes teachers,” she said.
Noem recommended a 6% increase for state education budgets and urged school districts to use it on teachers.
“Our teachers are working with each student uniquely to prepare them for the future,” Noem said. “School districts should invest the 6% increase directly into our teachers and our other district staff … They deserve our support, so I recommend we give it to them.”
The episode is bringing attention — and more money — to underfunded teachers
Despite the backlash, some good appears to have come out of the Dash for Cash promotion.
People around the country are asking how they can donate to the teachers and their schools, leading the Sioux Falls media to compile a list of options.
The event’s organizers say they are giving an additional $500 to the teachers who participated in the event and $500 to each of the 21 applicants who were not selected to take part.
“In total, the Stampede and CU Mortgage Direct will contribute an additional $15,500 to area teachers,” the organizers said. “We take our role in the community seriously and work hard to support area nonprofit groups in a variety of ways.”
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CNN’s Lucy Kafanov contributed to this story.