A public school superintendent in South Dakota was being investigated for an apparent “scam” involving local homeschoolers after he offered them a “free” laptop computer in exchange for their attendance in his district for a single day, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association.
The Argus-Leader in Sioux Falls reported the “offer” from Tri-Valley School District Supt. Mike Lodmel was to homeschoolers, explaining he wanted the children to spend one day in public school “and go home with a new laptop.”
The invitation was for Sept. 29, the day the state counts school attendance for calculating the state tax payments that go to each district.
He candidly told homeschooling families he wasn’t trying to get them to abandon homeschooling.
“The more students that attend school on this day means more funding for our district and less of a tax burden on our patrons. It’s also a way to help our home-school families with a no-cost lap top that can be utilized for your child’s education, if you choose to do so,” he wrote.
He called it a “win-win for both our district and our homeschool families.”
HSLDA, which found out about it when alarmed parents contacted the organization, concluded there was nothing technically or legally out of bounds for the families.
“This offer poses no problem of a strictly legal nature,” explained Scott Woodruff, the organization’s point person for the state.
However, he explained there are issues for parents to consider.
The governor’s office erupted with a rebuke, calling the move a scam and asking Lodmel with withdraw it, which he did.
“The governor views this as a tactic to try to scam the state funding formula,” said Tony Venhuizen, the governor’s chief of staff.
State Rep. Suye Peterson called it a “breach of ethics.”
As of last Friday, the incident remained under investigation by the state attorney general’s office, HSLDA said.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard also removed Lodmel from a school finance accountability board created to make certain districts comply with state funding formula requirements.
“If this is the new bright idea, we’ll have to look at new legislation next session to make this crystal clear,” Venhuizen told the Sioux Falls paper.
It seems school district officials had further alarmed homeschooling families by knocking on their doors with their invitation to join the public district for a day.
The original offer said: “In total transparency, school districts in South Dakota receive funding based on the number of students enrolled in the district on this date (Sept. 29). Our district would be willing to purchase new laptop computers for each student who attends school on this date.”
HSLDA’s Woodruff suggested homeschooling parents keep in mind that South Dakota law requires children to get “certain immunizations” to be in public schools, and children in school for a single day could make comments about their homeschooling or family that could lead to further questions. He also asked them to consider “what message might parents send their children by putting them in a system that is forbidden from telling the truth about God” and by being willing to do something they don’t believe in for money.
He said HSLDA “provides no advocacy services with respect to a child who is enrolled full time in public school.”
HSLDA said Mathew Irwin, chief of the South Dakota Christian Home Educators, admitted he was not surprised that the offer was rescinded.
He said the visits from school officials alarmed his group’s members.
“This is an offer that sounded really good at first blush, but if you thought about it for 10 seconds, you asked: Where are they getting the money to pay for these laptops? It came down to: ‘I want to use your students to get more money.’ That’s not right.”