• Tag Archives home school
  • GOAC Invites Testimony on Tri-Valley’s Blown Laptops-for-Homeschoolers Scheme

    In what promises to be a wide-ranging meeting next week Thursday and probably Friday, the Government Operations and Audit Committee will discuss Tri-Valley school superintendent Mike Lodmel’s ill-fated gambit to inflate his enrollment numbers and the concomitant state funding by offering free laptop computers to homeschoolers who would attend Tri-Valley for one day, the final headcount day, September 29.

    GOAC has invited Dr. Lodmel and his school board chair Leslie Johnson to attend the Thursday/Friday meeting at Carnegie Town Hall in Sioux Falls. GOAC simply tells Johnson that they want to ask about “how the school district determines fall enrollment, which is used in the determination of State Aid.” GOAC’s questions for Lodmel are more specific:

    1. Was the objective, of the Tri-Valley letter to parents of homeschool students, to have a one-day higher enrollment for the day the state education funding formula determines student enrollment?
    2. Are there other situations where school districts attempt to include students in their headcount that likely do not reflect their full-time student enrollment for the year?
    3. Are you aware of other school districts engaging in similar offers or behavior? If you are aware of similar types of offers, how long has this been going on?
    4. Would you support the Department of Legislative Audit examining 5-10 school districts that may have the highest disparity between the student enrollment figure for purposes of the funding formula and the number of high school graduates the previous spring (or some other objective measure)?
    5. What recommendations do you have for adjusting the school funding formula to avoid attempts to game student headcounts for purposes of garnering more state funds?
      1. Consider an alternative unannounced date for counting student enrollment?
      2. Make headcounts subject to a periodic audit?
      3. Have student headcounts periodically reviewed by the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee.
      4. Should there be a fine for any of this behavior which is uncovered? [GOAC to Mike Lodmel, 2017.09.21]

    (In tiny digs, GOAC addresses its letter to “Mr. Lodmel”, not “Dr.”)

    GOAC has also invited Dr. Lodmel’s neighbor (competitor?) Chester superintendent Heath Larson to respond to the third, fourth, and fifth+subpoints questions listed above. While Dr. Lodmel’s response either hasn’t arrived or hasn’t been posted to GOAC’s meeting webpage yet, Mr. Larson’s September 27 letter is online. Larson says he knows of no other schools besides Tri-Valley attempting to pad enrollment numbers (Larson doesn’t use those words, just refers to “this” and “recent attempt” in reference to GOAC’s language of “attempt to include students in their headcounts that likely do not reflect their full-time student enrollment”). He defends school districts and local control and responds cautiously to the suggestion of DLA action:

    …I would not oppose nor support an examination from the Department of Legislative Audit for any school due to not knowing at this time if additional school staff would need to be hired or a disruption of the learning environment would occur [Heath Larson to GOAC, 2017.09.27].

    Larson voices similar agnostic toward the other proposed legislative responses, asking if the Department of Education could manage an unannounced count date and if such a program would impinge on DOE’s ability to provide other “valuable technical assistance for school districts.” He says the Legislature should determine “if a fine is appropriate and if so, the respective amount,” although we should keep in mind that the Legislature can only determine a fine for future such activities, not for Lodmel’s already offered and rescinded enticements, which current law appears not to prohibit. Even if Attorney General Marty Jackley can find a statute under which to squeeze Lodmel, the court will determine the fine, not the Legislature.

    GOAC convenes Thursday at 1 p.m., and Tri-Valley is the fifth item on the agenda. The meeting’s biggest potential potboiler, the GEAR UP/Mid-Central scandal, is sixth, so it’s possible GOAC could steam through the preceding items and get to Tri-Valley on Thursday.

    Related: The religious wingnuts love this story, because they get to say “probed” and because they can use Lodmel’s gambit to show how evil public schools are. But even they, in the form of the Home School Legal Defense Association, admit Lodmel broke no law:

    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.

    …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” [Bob Unruh, “Superintendent Probed for ‘Scam’ Involving Homeschoolers,” World Net Daily, 2017.09.29].

    Keep an eye out for homeschool advocates at Thursday’s GOAC hearing in Sioux Falls telling their stories to legislators off mic. Heck, attending the hearing would be a worthwhile homeschool civics lesson for the kids….

  • 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.

  • Reporter and Homeschoolers Underplay Role of Religion on South Dakota Homeschooling

    Thursday morning’s Aberdeen paper ran Megan Raposa’s November 28 report on home-schooling. I found the report interesting in its concerted effort to de-emphasize the role of religion in home school in South Dakota. Raposa consigns religion to third place in her list of reasons parents teach their own kids:

    More parents are taking their children’s education into their own hands for a variety of reasons, from dislike of Common Core curriculum, to wanting more family time, to wanting religion in children’s education [Megan Raposa, “More Parents Taking Kids’ Learning into Their Own Hands,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2016.11.28].

    Raposa refers to religious motivation as one of the “stereotypes” that homeschool families face. Joel Brunick of Sioux Empire Christian Home Educators “says it’s a stereotype that families only homeschool their children for religious reasons.” Yet every person and organization Raposa includes in her story appears to bring an obvious and strong Christian commitment to homeschooling:

    1. South Dakota homeschool pioneers Cathy and Bernie Schock: Bernie Schock once led the South Dakota Homeschool Association. Apparently a devout Christian, he said Christians should not marry or maintain close friendships with non-Christians. However, he encouraged Christian home-school groups to involve non-Christian families, mostly because their Christian example would help convert the non-believers. Cathy Schock lists her LinkedIn occupation as “Servant of God.”
    2. Living Legacy Academy: The organization’s website says, “We are a group of inter-denominational families whose purpose is to provide support and education to Christian parents who are teaching their children at home.” Their website banner features no text other than Bible verses.
    3. Natalie Michael, eastern South Dakota chapter of Classical Conversations: Classical Conversations brands itself as a “Classical Christian Community.” Their website banner offers the slogan, “To know God and make Him known.” In their discussion of how classical and Christian education align, they express the expectation that, “As students comprehend God more deeply and develop a deeper relationship with Him, they will want to praise Him continually.” Their non-discrimination statement on their new families application leaves the door open for exclusion based on faith: “Classical Conversations admits students of any race, color, national, and ethnic origin to all the rights and privileges, programs, and activities made available to enrolled students. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national, and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admission policies, or tuition assistance, nor in hiring facilitators, tutors, or administrators. We are a Christian organization and hold to the orthodox doctrines of the Christian faith.
    4. Joel Brunick, Sioux Empire Christian Home Educators board: Brunick’s organization says it was founded in 2002 by families who “desired to form a group where their belief and acknowledgment of God was an integral part of their homeschool organization.” SECHE’s doctrinal statement opens with the infallibility of the Bible as the Word of God, offers several more Christian tenets, and concludes by declaring that “our home school association should reflect and defend these beliefs in all of its activities.”
    5. Brooke Theisen serves on the SECHE board along with Brunick.
    6. Sarah Kramer (private school tuition became too expensive), one of two primary contacts for LLA.

    Boy, if there’s anyone in Sioux Falls doing homeschool for reasons that don’t headline deep Christian faith, Megan Raposa didn’t find any.

    The homeschoolers in Raposa’s story have connections to a national homeschool organization with strong Christian leanings. The first hyperlink on the LLA resources page is to the Home School Legal Defense Association. Sioux Empire Christian Home Educators is an official member of the Home School Legal Defense Association. HSLDA declares its mission “To preserve and advance the fundamental, God-given, constitutional right of parents and others legally responsible for their children to direct their education. In so doing, we rely on two fundamental freedoms—parental rights and religious freedom. We advocate for these freedoms in the courtrooms, before government officials, and in the public arena. Additionally, we assist other educational organizations in similar activities, where possible and appropriate.” HSLDA has clear connections to religious right-wing activism; however, HSLDA elaborates on its FAQs page that “Our mission is to protect the freedom of all homeschoolers, no matter what their faith background. HSLDA membership is open to all who choose to exercise their fundamental parental right to educate their children at home, regardless of their religious beliefs. Additionally, we place no religious restrictions on member families’ choice of curriculum.”

    We can find some “inclusive” home school groups in South Dakota, like Our Way of Learning—OWL Sioux Falls. But we hear nothing about them in Raposa’s story

    Not all home-schoolers are religious activists. But a lot of religious activists have made home school a key part of their exercise of faith and sometimes theocratic politics. That’s not a stereotype; that’s an accurate description of prevalent motives in South Dakota homeschooling.

  • John Rosemond: Home School Doesn’t Require Parental Education, Discipline, or Involvement

    I like my local paper. The Aberdeen American News publishes a fair array of informative local and state news articles, plus just enough really stupid articles to make blogging easy.

    Take Sunday’s column from nationally syndicated parenting columnist John Rosemond. This family psychologist and “parents rights” activist says teachers don’t need to be highly educated:

    A parent does not have to be highly educated in order to home-school successfully, but regardless of academic credentials, the motivation to further one’s self-education needs to be there. A parent who wants to turn their home into the most effective educational environment possible should tune the television to learning channels only (e.g. Discovery, History), read a preponderance of nonfiction, and read a lot [John Rosemond, “Answers to Questions About Home Schooling,” Tribune News Service via Aberdeen American News, 2015.08.02].

    …shouldn’t bother teaching kids with discipline problems:

    I do not generally recommend attempting home schooling if disobedience is a major discipline issue in the home. Behavioral issues of that sort are going to contaminate the process and need to be resolved before home schooling is undertaken [Rosemond, 2015.08.02].

    …and should not get so deeply involved with their students’ learning:

    High involvement on the part of a home schooling parent is likely to turn into micromanagement and create push-back from the child. First, there are home-school curricula that do not require a high level of parental involvement. Second, the best home-school structure involves the parent teaching for 10 to 15 minutes, giving a 30-minute class assignment which the child does independently, grading the paper (immediate feedback), then moving on to the next instructional module. Minimizing parent involvement maximizes student responsibility [Rosemond, 2015.08.02].

    I want you to imagine a public school teacher espousing Rosemond’s philosophy in a job interview or in parent-teacher conferences:

    You know, I didn’t bother to get a degree; I just read a lot of nonfiction books and watch a lot of Discovery Channel. Kids with behavior issues just contaminate my teaching process, so I get them transferred to someone else’s class. And I don’t teach all period—that’s micromanagement! I pick curricula that don’t require me to do much. I teach for a few minutes, then hand the kids worksheets. The less I’m involved in student learning, the better!

    I support parents’ rights to homeschool their kids. I believe that home school done right is great, offering kids one-on-one attention from teachers who love them.

    But home school is a commitment to be more involved in your kids’ lives, not less. Involvement in the teaching process isn’t micromanagement; it’s engagement, creative questioning, and constructive feedback, backed with constant planning and evaluation of your curriculum choices and teaching methods.

    And discipline issues? Seriously? Parents are the discipline gods, all-powerful and ever-present. If parents can’t exercise sufficient discipline over their children to conduct home school, those children’s behavior won’t be more manageable in a formal classroom. Rosemond’s organization sees public schools threatening parental rights, but in this column he seems to suggest that if parents can’t handle their responsibility to discipline their kids, they can take great relief in handing that responsibility to the public school system.

    I like my local paper. But if they want intelligent tips for parents, they need to find a smarter parenting and education columnist than John Rosemond.