ECOT online school funding fight reaches court: ECOT says state rules are "unenforceable," state says ECOT is "absurd"
COLUMBUS, Ohio - The state's fight overwhether the giant ECOT online school deserves the $106 million in state money it receives hit the courtroom today, with ECOT lawyers saying the state is using rules that are "unenforceable" and the state saying the school's objections are "absurd."
The school and Ohio Department of Education are expected to be before Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Jennifer French for the next three days to present their differing views on a crucial issue: Whether online schools have to show that students actually participate in their online classes, or just that the schools provide classes.
In opening arguments this morning, lawyer Marion Little said state rules and a 2003 contract with ODE only require the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow to prove that students are enrolled, not that they are engaged in their lessons.
Little said that e-school funding is set by enrollment but the state this year has tried to "merge" the "distinct" and separate ideas of participation with enrollment to audit the school and put its funding at risk.
"They tried to rewrite the law," Little said.
He said that having to prove that students are participating is a much higher standard than traditional schools have to follow. Those schools receive state aid, he noted, even if students skip class.
He also told the court of a 2003 agreement between the state and ECOT outlining what documentation the state would look at to determine funding for the school. It does not list any required documents showing time logged on to the school's system or other records of participation.
Little said that contract did not have a time limit and was never officially changed, so expecting more documentation now is unfair.
"We have an enforceable agreement that has not been complied with," he said.
See below for a copy of that contract, attached to an earlier filing by ECOT in the case.
Douglas Cole, the lawyer representing ODE, countered by saying ECOT's position that "participation is irrelevant to receiving $106 million dollars" is absurd.
"Taxpayers deserve to know that their hard-earned dollars are actually going toward an education," Cole said. "Students actually deserve to an education, not merely offered the possibility of one."
Cole also argued that the "contract" with ECOT resolved a dispute at that time but is not binding now.
We'll have more here soon.
As we have reported previously, the state is seeking proof that students are spending more than one hour a day online, as early reviews showed,
Because the school in the past has not had to provide documentation of the work that its students do, school leaders have said it's unfair to expect the documentation retroactively for the just-finished 2015-16 school year.
If the state makes ECOT show evidence of how much time its students spend learning or else lose some of its state funding, ECOT Superintendent Rich Teeters told supporters this summer that the school's future is in danger.
In the 2014-15 school year, 38,500 students took their classes on computers from home through an online school. Ohio, along with California and Pennsylvania, is one of the top states in the country for the number of kids in online schools, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS).
For the 2015-16 school year, Ohio paid online schools $267 million to educate those students -– more than a quarter of what it paid all charter schools in the state.
ECOT and Ohio Virtual Academy, with 15,000 and 11,000 students, are the largest online schools in Ohio.
The contract in question makes up pages 18-20 of the file below. ECOT online school funding fight reaches court: ECOT says state rules are "unenforceable," state says ECOT is "absurd" | cleveland.com: