Despite a judicial ruling, Ohio's largest online charter school, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, is still refusing to hand over records to the state's Department of Education for the purpose of performing an attendance audit.
A Franklin Country judge, Stephen McIntosh, denied the online school's request for a temporary restraining order intended to prevent the audit.
State investigators moved into the school's headquarters in Columbus to begin looking at the data, but ECOT continued to prevent their progress by withholding information. Attorney Douglas Cole, the DOE's special counsel, said that ECOT is refusing to provide the department's personnel with access to the log-in and log-out data for students.
ECOT has been asked to provide the information within two weeks.
Last week, ECOT sued the state DOE, arguing that tracking per-day log-in duration violates a signed agreement made in 2003 as well as promises made earlier this year, reports Jim Siegel of the Columbus Dispatch.
ECOT's superintendent Rick Teeters called these moves an "underhanded" attempt to "eliminate" the online school, reports Patrick O'Donnel of The Plain Dealer. Teeters said:
"Without court intervention, these underhanded procedural changes would severely limit our ability to provide a quality school experience. In fact, they would likely force us and other e-schools to close our doors altogether."
The state requires students to log a minimum of 920 hours of "learning opportunities" to be considered full-time. How many full-time students a school has then determines how much funding it receives.
The DOE checks in on schools every five years. In March, it found that most students were logged-in to the ECOT system for around one hour per day rather than the minimum requirement of five hours per day and the usual in-person school day of six or seven hours.
In a court filing, the DOE wrote:
[The department] tentatively concluded that it appeared that ECOT tracks student participation time, but that ECOT does not adjust its (full-time student) FTE submissions according to this participation data.
ECOT currently receives around $106 million for 15,000 students.
As of February 1st of this year, the law requires each online charter school to keep accurate records of student participation in "learning activities" every day in a manner that can easily be submitted to the state. Even before that, says Cole, ECOT had an obligation to maintain accurate records.
ECOT argues in return that it graduates more students than any other school in the state.
Critics are worried that the school's close ties to lawmakers will release the school from the attendance requirement. Between 2010-2015, ECOT's founder William Lager gave more than $1.2 million in campaign contributions, the vast majority of which went to Republicans.
Many politicians have spoken at ECOT graduation ceremonies as well.
Earlier this year, ECOT lobbyists campaigned to change a section of law requiring minimum hours to be changed to "offered" rather than "provided." It was stalled, but could be revisited.
According to Karen Kasler of WKSU, there will be at least two charter school-related bills waiting for lawmakers when they return after the general election this fall.