Teachers in South Dakota were seen on video frantically shoving $1 bills into their shirts off of a local hockey arena’s ice as part of a competition to get money for school supplies this past weekend.
The video, which has since gone viral, shows the so-called “Dash for Cash” playing out at a junior hockey game in Sioux Falls Saturday. The event was ostensibly intended as a bit of lighthearted fun: The teachers were wearing hockey helmets, and at least one took off a festive reindeer-like hat to collect more bills from the pile that had accumulated at center ice. The director of business development and marketing for CU Mortgage Direct, which funded the teachers’ winnings—$5,000 in all—also told the Argus Leader the company felt it was an “awesome group thing to do” after a couple of difficult pandemic years for educators.
But viewing it from afar, some Americans saw a much more depressing scene: public servants fighting over crumbs in a country that pays them less than educators in several other developed nations and doesn’t always foot the bill for basics like pencils and trash bags. The average U.S. teacher salary has also decreased 4.5 percent in the past decade when adjusted for inflation, while the job has only gotten more dangerous thanks to COVID-19.
“This is so fucked,” one Twitter user said. “Let's not pay teachers enough and watch them fight for cash while we record them.”
“This just should not be,” wrote Bernice King, the youngest child of Martin Luther King Jr., on Twitter. She then quoted her father: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”
Teachers in South Dakota earn the least out of almost every state in the nation, with an average salary of about $49,000, according to the National Education Association. Only educators in Mississippi are worse off. And over the past decade, more and more of South Dakota’s school districts began operating on a four-day week due in part to budget constraints.
Others opposed to the “Dash for Cash” also noted on Twitter that the U.S. actually does have the money to avoid such spectacles, given the mountain of COVID-19 relief cash that states and local governments have at times failed to use quickly and effectively during the pandemic.
“South Dakota’s k-12 schools are sitting on $551 million in unspent COVID relief funds,” tweeted Angela Morabito, a spokesperson for the conservative publication Campus Reform and a former press secretary for the Trump administration’s Education Department. “This was unnecessary and exploitative.”
The 10 teachers who participated in the “Dash for Cash” event were able to win somewhere between about $400 and $600 each during the Sioux Falls Stampede hockey game, according to the Argus Leader. Educators told the newspaper they intended to spend the cash on goods like standing desks, seating, and document cameras; one educator even wanted to devote their winnings to equipment for a high school e-sports club.
Jim Olander, the president of the Sioux Falls Stampede, told local CBS affiliate KELO that each school had to apply for the event and describe what teachers would use the funds for. The teachers also sold tickets to the game, with $5 of each ticket going to their respective school, KELO reported.
“We know this day and age schools are in need of funding and we’re just trying to play a small part to help them out and have some fun while doing it,” Olander told KELO.
Olander and CU Mortgage Direct did not immediately return VICE News’ request for comment.