A group of South Dakota teachers scrambled for cash between periods of a minor league hockey game to help raise money for their classrooms, a promotional event that is being criticized over its optics and concerns over teacher pay and shortages around the country.
Ten teachers competed for $5,000 in the “Dash for Cash” on Saturday, in a promotion put on by the Sioux Falls Stampede Hockey Club and CU Mortgage Direct, a local lender.
Videos showed teachers on their knees scrambling to collect dollar bills in the middle of the rink, many stuffing the money in their shirts, as spectators watched.
The event drew widespread criticism after the videos went viral online, with critics calling the competition demeaning.
South Dakota state Rep. Erin Healy, of Sioux Falls, said the event showed a “broken" system and an education funding problem.
“I know that this was a private organization donating money to teachers, I think it was a well-intentioned event, but teachers should never have to grovel for money that’s needed for classroom improvements,” Healy said, according to NBC affiliate Dakota News Now.
Healy said the event opened up a larger conversation about teacher pay in the state.
“It really just shows how truly broken our system is,” Healy said. “Events like this aren’t going to really solve our funding problem.”
The event's sponsor issued an apology Monday.
“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,” Stampede and CU Mortgage Direct said in a statement Monday. “We deeply regret and apologize to all teachers for any embarrassment this may have caused.”
The statement said the promotion was “intended to help raise funds for area teachers and their classrooms.”
The hockey club said it received more than 30 applications for the event and 10 educators were selected. They “received over a combined $5,000 and a minimum of $500 each,” Stampede said, and each teacher was introduced prior to the event “as we highlighted their school and what the funds would be used for.”
Stampede said that with CU Mortgage Direct, it would be providing an additional $500 to the teachers who participated in the event and $500 to the other 21 applicants.
“In total, the Stampede and CU Mortgage Direct will contribute an additional $15,500 to area teachers,” the statement said.
Loren Paul, the president of the South Dakota Education Association, said teachers spend an average of $750 out of their own pockets to give their students the supplies they need, according to Dakota News Now.
“We have a statewide educator shortage, teacher shortage, and I don’t know if there is a district in the state that isn’t looking for a position or a bunch of positions,” Paul said.
Alexandria Kuyper, a fifth grade teacher at Discovery Elementary School who participated in the event, told The Argus Leader that while her school applies for grants to fund classroom items, paying for smaller items, such as decorations, can add up.
“I think it’s really cool when the community offers an opportunity" for events like this, for things that educators often pay for themselves, she said.