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South Dakota

September 20, 2017

Would you trade a day of your child's life for a computer?

School Funding “Scam” Shut Down by Governor’s Office

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Tri-Valley School District superintendent Mike Lodmel called it a win-win offer. If homeschooling families enrolled their children in public school for one day, each child would receive a free laptop computer, and the district could count them as students when it came time to collect state funds.

Other officials had much harsher words for the scheme.

According to the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, a spokesman for the governor’s office called it “a scam.”

State Representative Sue Peterson insisted, “This is a breach of ethics.”

Scott Woodruff, Home School Legal Defense Association’s contact attorney for South Dakota, learned about the unlikely proposal when a constituent emailed a copy of Lodmel’s letter. His response last week in an email to HSLDA members in the Mount Rushmore State was more measured than the governor’s.

“This offer poses no problem of a strictly legal nature,” Woodruff wrote, in keeping with our foundational premise that parents are free to make educational decisions they feel are best for their children.

Woodruff did caution that there are “issues you may want to consider.”

These included whether students who enrolled for one day would be required to adhere to state health requirements and to what degree families who took advantage of the offer would be placing their privacy at risk.

Woodruff also contacted the South Dakota Department of Education’s attorney to alert him regarding the situation.

Reversing Course

Lodmel retracted the offer at the request of Governor Dennis Daugaard. As of last Friday, the incident remained under investigation by the state attorney general’s office.

Mathew Irwin, president of South Dakota Christian Home Educators, said he was not surprised the Tri-Valley district’s offer was rescinded, though its short existence did cause a fair amount of consternation among homeschoolers.

Part of this had to do with the fact that, in addition to the letter, district officials pitched the offer by visiting families at home.

Thanks to the resulting calls from upset homeschoolers, Irwin’s “phone was ringing off the hook” on Thursday, he said. “You don’t get visits from the school district on a school matter.”

Consequently, the initial assumption was that officials were either conducting an investigation or trying to extract information.

Irwin said that once he had a chance to examine Lodmel’s letter, though, he was able to put the situation in perspective.

“I figured it was disingenuous,” he said. “This is an offer that sounded really good at first blush, but if you thought about it for ten 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.”

Irwin’s view echoed that of Peterson.

“It’s an attempt to blatantly defraud the state and the taxpayers at the expense of homeschool children,” she told the Argus Leader.

And though the crisis has passed, Irwin added that it only emphasizes a message he hopes to deliver to lawmakers in the next legislative session: What South Dakota homeschooling families really need is less entanglement with the government and more freedom.