Justices of the Ohio Supreme Court are weighing arguments in a hot-button case over how Ohio calculated funding for the state’s largest online charter school after grilling both sides’ attorneys for nearly an hour Tuesday morning.
Marion Little, an attorney for the now-closed Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow argued that the Ohio Department of Education overstepped its authority when it decided to use participation and learning time, rather than enrollment, for its calculation.
“If the General Assembly wanted to write participation – it’s not that difficult,” Little said. “They could have inserted that word. They elected not to do so.”
The revised formula showed ECOT inflated its attendance and owed the state a $60 million refund. Little told justices the state misled and lied to the school. “This court has already said in order for the system to be constitutional, there is a set amount of money that follows each student,” Little said. “Well that money is not following the student anymore.”
State attorney Douglas Cole said ECOT’S interpretation of state law results in an “absurd” outcome where it can collect full payment for students without documenting a single minute’s learning.
“As long as a student logs in for at least a minute or two every 30 days, ECOT claims they’re entitled to full funding for that student,” Cole said. “We need to make sure that A) – that students are there and participating and getting an education and B) – that Ohio taxpayers are getting the educational services that they’re paying for.”
ECOT has returned about $26 million of that money to the state since last July, calculations by State Auditor Dave Yost show. But Yost and the school project that returnng money at the same $4 million-per-month pace would leave ECOT broke by March.
The school was shut down Jan. 19 – at the end of its second quarter – to avoid running out of money mid-term.
ECOT supporters held a rally at the Ohio Statehouse this afternoon in Columbus, Ohio on May 9, 2017. [Kyle Robertson/Dispatch]
ECOT was the first online charter school in the nation to graduate students. It was a proud day for ECOT when those 21 high school graduates who comprised the very first ECOT class beginning in 2000 and graduating in Spring 2001, received their diplomas. Every year since then the number of high school students graduating from ECOT has increased dramatically, rising to more than 2,500 graduates in 2016. Despite, the controversy this school should remain open. Because ECOT provides academic flexibility to accommodate a wide variety of learning styles, interests, and special circumstances, graduates from ECOT have attended college, pursued varied careers, and become members of the armed forces. To help with college costs, ECOT makes scholarship opportunities available for ECOT graduates.