In an attempt to thwart an upcoming attendance audit that might result in the loss of millions of dollars in funding, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow has sued the state of Ohio.
The Ohio Department of Education would require ECOT to provide records of daily student log-in times to see whether it added up to five hours a day of instruction. Attendance figures determine how much state money a school receives, with the minimum set at 920 hours. ECOT currently receives $107 million per year for more than 15,000 students. Its most recent review, in 2011, revealed only minor issues, reports Jim Siegel and Catherine Candisky of the Columbus Dispatch.
The lawsuit, filed in Franklin County Commons Pleas court only three days before the final attendance review was scheduled to begin, calls this a "bait and switch." The school argues that using log in times to calculate attendance violates an agreement signed in 2003 after an attendance dispute. Rather than requiring that students spend 920 hours actually logged in, that agreement states that they "must be presented with at least 920 hours of learning opportunities."
According to the Associated Press, Neil Clark, a consultant for ECOT, said:
According to Clark and Mike Dittoe, chief of staff for House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, these concerns were discussed at a meeting on February 28th, and the school was told that the department would not require five hours of log in time per day.
"We were misled through the whole process. Up until a week ago, I think ODE (the Ohio Department of Education) was an agency running amok."
Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, stated:
"To pay ECOT for merely offering something and not delivering it is not a good bargain for taxpayers. We have a huge number of kids not taking advantage of an opportunity to learn, and we need to fix that."
Department of Education officials declined to address the allegations. Spokeswoman Brittany Halpin said in a statement:
"[The department] remains committed to completing our regulatory duty to conduct the final attendance review and ensuring that appropriate funding is distributed to all charter schools."
A similar review required online school Provost Academy to pay back $800,000 to the state, which was equal to about 80% of its total funding. It was found that the average log in time for students was less than an hour a day.
Ohio's charter school system has invited scrutiny and criticism over the last few years. Detractors include state Auditor Dave Yost and Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman, who introduced a bill dealing with online attendance.
Schiavoni believes that ECOT does, in fact, have the ability to track log in times. He also cited ECOT's poor performance, including the statistic that more ECOT students drop out or fail to finish within four years than any other school in the country.
Representative Andrew Brenner, R-Powell, who is chairperson of the House Education Committee, believes that the system should be redesigned to support an alternate way of counting high school students.