Tri-Valley Offers Homeschoolers Free Laptops to Pad Enrollment

In South Dakota, K-12 school districts receive state funding based on how many students are enrolled as of the end of September. The new teacher-based formula enacted in 2016 gives each school $77,852 per teacher, but the number of teachers used in the formula is not the actual number of teachers in the school but the number of teachers the state thinks each school should have based on enrollment, ranging from one teacher per twelve students at schools with 200 or fewer students to one teacher per fifteen students at schools with 600 or more students. Based on my read of the state’s estimates, schools will be allotted $5,353 per student (a combination of local dollars and checks from Pierre). Actual calculated need ranges from $5,190 at the biggest schools to $6,488 at the smallest schools.

The state estimates the Tri-Valley school district will have 905 kids enrolled, meaning Tri-Valley will receive state aid based on a calculated need of $5,190 per student. Based on the payments from the state to Tri-Valley’s general fund in July and August, it appears state aid provides about 60.4% of that need, or about $3,120 per student.

So if for some reason a bunch of kids moved to Tri-Valley by September 29, the last school day of this month, they would each boost the amount of money Tri-Valley receives from the state by $3,120. Even if some of those kids moved away a month later, or even if a bunch of the Tri-Valley locals didn’t like the new kids and transferred out to Chester or Baltic in October, the enrollment count and state aid are locked in on September 29.

So suppose Tri-Valley found a way to get a bunch of currently non-enrolled kids to check in at the school for just one day, September 29:

Letter from Tri-Valley superintendent Mike Lodmel to home-school parents, September 2017
Letter from Tri-Valley superintendent Mike Lodmel to home-school parents, September 2017, as posted by that Sioux Falls paper, 2017.09.14.

The above letter, posted by Megan Raposa and Dana Ferguson in a bombshell article yesterday, went out to home-school parents from Tri-Valley superintendent Mike Lodmel inviting them to bring their kids to Tri-Valley for just one day, September 29, to boost their school’s official enrollment and funding. In return for the $3,120 in state aid that each child’s one-day enrollment would bring to Tri-Valley, Lodmel promised each child a new laptop.

The letter doesn’t specify what kind of laptop, but at $3,120 per student, the home schoolers wouldn’t have had to settle for Chromebooks from Wal-Mart. Tri-Valley could have split the money 50-50 and bought these one-day students top-flight Macbook Airs.

Could have. The press and the state got wind of Tri-Valley’s scheme, and the kaibosh swiftly ensued. Governor Dennis Daugaard’s office called Tri-Valley’s free-laptop-for-one-day-of-school offer “a tactic to try to scam the state funding formula.” The Governor booted Lodmel from the state school finance accountability board to which Daugaard appointed Lodmel last year, and his spokesman Tony Venhuizen signaled we’ll see legislation to prevent any such future scam. Rep. Sue Peterson (R-13/Sioux Falls) said Tri-Valley tried to “blatantly defraud the state and the taxpayers” with this “act of bad faith” and “breach of ethics.” Attorney General Marty Jackley is checking the law books.

Lodmel told the press yesterday, “We’re just going to drop it.” Now we’ll see if Tri-Valley feels the need to drop their superintendent.

7 Responses to Tri-Valley Offers Homeschoolers Free Laptops to Pad Enrollment

  1. mike from iowa

    Ah, Daugaard. If there is one thing this guv knows it would be educational scams,imho.

  2. Richard Schriever

    Get rid of the Super? Wouldn’t that be an issue for the school BOARD? And wouldn’t the TV school BOARD would have been in on this scam as well – seeing as how it would have involved a possibly substantial funds outlay.

  3. Donald Pay

    Well, the “one day” enrollment is a little bit too far for me, but there appears to be nothing illegal about what the Supe did. Efforts like this can be a good marketing effort to get homeschooling parents to take a look at enrolling their kids in a public school. I’d have marketed it a little differently, though. Something like, “Try our schools for a month. If you don’t like it, you get a free computer and all the education our teachers can stuff into your little ones’ brains in that time.” If we want good public schools, they have to be able to compete in the educational marketplace, and they are competing against homeschooling. That’s why I always supported letting homeschoolers on athletic teams.

  4. There is an old saying in motor racing that goes, “Speed equals money. How fast do you want to go?” It is no different for public education. Dr. Lodmel is rightfully trying to come up with ways to get the Scrooges in Pierre to direct some tiny portion of the money they hoard for their rich supporter’s pet projects to the most important use of our tax dollars there is. Think how much good someone like him could do in De Voss’s place.

  5. Outrageous! I wonder who the lawyer is that Lodmel says cleared this?

  6. So since the state is putting their eye on this “matter”, what else have they neglected. To me this is a pass the buck type of non scandal to get the voters of South Dakota feel like their state government is doing good things…..while trying to cover up their own “scams”.

  7. Donald Pay

    The problem that I see with the letter is that he states, “This is in no way an attempt to get you to change your mind about homeschooling.” Why not? He’s a public school Superintendent. He better be trying his best to educate all the students in his community. If he didn’t think his schools were better than homeschooling, why have pubic schools to begin with?

    I’m sure he was trying to be “politically correct.” It’s not that you have to disrespect parents’ choice to homeschool. But if you believe your schools provide a great education and a great social growth experience for your students, you want the kid in the door to experience the great learning that goes on. Of course, you have to deliver, and be a great school. And you have to accept everyone who comes in the door with all their challenges.

    So, I would actually make it about recruiting those homeschoolers. But, just giving them a laptop is not necessary a good educational experience, so offer them “free education for a month,” too, just to try it out.