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October 10, 2017

Official defends laptop scam.

Superintendent Defends Free Laptop Offer to Oversight Committee

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A public school superintendent told a government committee last week that in offering free laptops to homeschool students who agreed to enroll in his district for a day, he really hoped to interest them in a distance-learning program.

Tri-Valley District Superintendent Mike Lodmel made the statement in response to queries by the South Dakota Government Operations and Oversight Committee. The committee is investigating whether Lodmel’s scheme attempted “to game student headcounts for purposes of garnering more state funds.”

Lodmel issued the offer late last month, asking homeschool students to come on the day the state takes attendance in order to determine how much money to award each school district. He then retracted the offer at the request of the governor’s office.

In a letter to the committee, Lodmel explained he had intended to introduce homeschooling families to online distance-learning software that includes full-credit courses “based on state standards.”

Having homeschool students sample the computers and software the same day the state determined per-pupil funding, Lodmel wrote, meant his district would not have had to bear the cost all on its own.

“We thought providing valuable learning tools to our homeschool students while also increasing school revenue was a good idea,” his letter said.

Opposing View

Other officials see it quite differently.

“His proposal was clearly an attempt to defraud the taxpayer,” state Rep. Sue Peterson told the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader. “And he’s been caught red-handed and now he’s trying to backpedal on this.”

Home School Legal Defense Association’s contact attorney for South Dakota, Scott Woodruff, also commented on the investigation in an interview for American Family Radio.

Woodruff said the incident reveals a dark side to the competition for students and control of what they learn.

For example, Woodruff argued that the district meant to entice homeschoolers both with a look at traditional classroom-style public education, and with online programs. This ulterior motive was not apparent when representatives first contacted area families. School officials also ignored how alarming it might be when they showed up at private homes to pitch the offer in person.

“A knock on the door in the middle of the day from a public school representative was very distracting and unwelcome for homeschooling families,” Woodruff told his radio listeners. Nevertheless, he added, “most people recognized the offer for what it was—a rather questionable moral gambit.”

At this point, the Tri-Valley District incident is unlikely to further affect South Dakota homeschooling families. However, said Woodruff, it does illustrate that less-than-perfectly-transparent attempts by public school officials to win back homeschooling families are not as rare as some might think.