Ohio Pays Millions While Students at ECOT Average Only an Hour a Day at Online School

Jim Siegel reported yesterday for the Columbus Dispatch that despite Judge Stephen McIntosh’s refusal to grant the restraining order demanded by the state’s largest online charter school to prevent a state audit of its attendance records, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) continues to refuse to share its records openly with the state’s investigators:

“Despite a judge’s ruling this week, the state’s largest online charter school has apparently declined to hand over all records requested by the Ohio Department of Education so it can conduct an attendance audit.  After a Franklin County judge on Monday denied ECOT’s request for a temporary restraining order to block the state from conducting the audit, state investigators moved into the school’s Columbus headquarters to begin reviewing data. But, according to an e-mail sent Tuesday from the Education Department’s attorney to ECOT’s legal counsel, the information ECOT provided was not complete…. The standoff is the latest development in an ongoing battle between the Education Department and the politically well-connected online school….”

Patrick O’Donnell, the Plain Dealer‘s education reporter shares some of the back story about Ohio’s push to audit attendance at the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, which collected over $100 million last year to educate 15,000 students online. Apparently an initial audit of school attendance records earlier in the spring turned up some shocking news: “An initial review this spring raised red flags that students at ECOT, Ohio’s largest online school, may have done far less work than required.” “‘Those (ECOT’s) records did not substantiate the number of educational hours for which ECOT had billed ODE,’ the state’s lawyers added.”

O’Donnell continues: “Many students at the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) online charter school spend just an hour a day online taking their classes… all the while the state pays the school as if they were full-time students.  That detail was included in a filing for the state in Franklin County Common Pleas Court Monday as the Ohio Department of Education audits the giant charter school’s records.” “Unlike a traditional school, where teachers can take attendance every day, students at online schools like ECOT take classes at home by computer.  That makes it hard to measure whether they are actively taking classes…. Since charter schools are paid on a per-student basis by the state, there are millions of dollars at stake in determining which kids qualify as attending a school.”

The problem is that ECOT inadequately tracks active participation by its students.  Siegel quotes the spring’s initial audit: “The department ‘tentatively concluded that it appeared that ECOT tracks student participation time, but that ECOT does not adjust its (full-time student) FTE submission according to this participation data,’ the department wrote in a court filing. After unsuccessfully gaining access to ECOT’s full log-in data, (attorney Douglas) Cole wrote that as of Feb. 1 the law requires each online charter to ‘keep an accurate record of each individual student’s participation in learning opportunities each day’ and be kept in a manner that can be submitted to the state.  Cole said the Education Department maintains that, even before that law change, ECOT had an obligation to maintain accurate duration records.”

It is well known that William Lager, ECOT’s founder and the owner of the two privately held for-profit companies that provide all services for ECOT, has been among Ohio’s most generous contributors to the political coffers of Republicans in the legislature. In its latest report, the Dispatch notes that Lager “has given more than $1.2 million in disclosed campaign contributions, the vast majority to Republican lawmakers.”

This week, Lager’s best supporter in the legislature seems to be Rep. Kirk Schuring, R-Canton, who asked the Department of Education to delay its audit for a week.  In his report for the Dispatch, Siegel explains why Schuring says he wanted a delay: “I told them I was disappointed they wouldn’t delay just one week to allow me to at least see if there was a way to come to come kind of reasonable agreement.” The Dispatch continues: “Schuring said he wants a better understanding of the differences in learning between an online school and a traditional school.”

In March, Senate minority leader, Joe Schiavoni, D-Youngstown, proposed a bill to regulate attendance at the online schools, but the legislature did not act on it before recessing until after the November election.  Rep. Schuring is reported by Siegel to be “uncertain if lawmakers will act after the November election.”

This blog has covered ECOT extensively.

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One thought on “Ohio Pays Millions While Students at ECOT Average Only an Hour a Day at Online School

  1. Reblogged this on Mister Journalism: "Reading, Sharing, Discussing, Learning" and commented:
    Despite a judge’s ruling this week, the state’s largest online charter school has apparently declined to hand over all records requested by the Ohio Department of Education so it can conduct an attendance audit. After a Franklin County judge on Monday denied ECOT’s request for a temporary restraining order to block the state from conducting the audit, state investigators moved into the school’s Columbus headquarters to begin reviewing data. But, according to an e-mail sent Tuesday from the Education Department’s attorney to ECOT’s legal counsel, the information ECOT provided was not complete…. The standoff is the latest development in an ongoing battle between the Education Department and the politically well-connected online school….”

    Patrick O’Donnell, the Plain Dealer’s education reporter shares some of the back story about Ohio’s push to audit attendance at the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, which collected over $100 million last year to educate 15,000 students online. Apparently an initial audit of school attendance records earlier in the spring turned up some shocking news: “An initial review this spring raised red flags that students at ECOT, Ohio’s largest online school, may have done far less work than required.” “‘Those (ECOT’s) records did not substantiate the number of educational hours for which ECOT had billed ODE,’ the state’s lawyers added.”

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