ECOT, the Electronic Classroom Of Tomorrow, appears to have double-counted students. By the state of Ohio's count, they were off by 9,000 students, which determines how much tax money go to the school.
ECOT is Ohio's largest online charter school and with this new information, it seems likely the school will be losing $60 million in state funding. ECOT received $109 million in taxpayer funding in 2015. This means there is a 59% gap between the schools reporting and the numbers the Ohio Board of Education received.
"We strongly disagree with ODE's letter which is why we are already in court. We knew this process was a sham and ODE's actions prove it. They have and continue to railroad all e-schools in the state. It is impossible for any e-school to meet the retroactive demands of ODE, which is why no e-school in the state has been able to do so. ODE made arbitrary requirements and then applied them retroactively," Says Neil Clark, an ECOT lobbyist.
ECOT has just over a week to appeal the decision to the Ohio Board of Education (ODE), points out Nathan Baca of 10tv. The only way that appeal will work is for the Board of Education to determine that state law prohibits it from auditing ECOT's count of its students. That decision has put Jenifer French, a Franklin County Common Pleas court judge, in the spotlight.
ECOT is fighting the audit based on a court case ruling from 2003 that said the Board of Education would determine funding based on students who enroll and log on a minimum of one time. State lawyers are currently fighting to overturn that determination.
Jim Siegel notes for the Columbus Dispatch that eight other online schools have had trouble providing data that they are meeting the minimum 920 learning hours students have to be offered. ECOT in past years has provided data sheets that show it has provided the minimum hours, but the veracity of those logs are being called into question:
A letter from the ODE to ECOT states "No adjustment to the Full-Time Equivalency number (and funding) will be made until ECOT exhausts its appeal rights."
Should ECOT win its case, they won't be required to provide documentation of class participants until next year. While this could be very helpful to them, the Board of Education has already stated that they plan on going against their normal five-year schedule and auditing ECOT again next year.
Rich Teeters, ECOT's Superintendent, has said that should they have to return the majority of their funding it will be catastrophic for the school, reports Patrick O'Donnell for Cleveland.com. With the new policies the ODE has put in place, it will be difficult for ECOT to get back on track unless they win their court case.
"No more tax dollars should be wasted on high-priced lawyers and lobbyists and on television ads that attack ODE for doing its job.And ECOT should pay back the money it owes the state immediately," Says Joe Schiavoni, Senate Minority Leader.
The ODE has come to its determinations based on a random sampling of 706 records of ECOT students. The school should have had 414 full-time students within that sample, but the ODE only found 171 full-time students.