Virtual Charter Schools

Ohio Online Schools Say They Will Appeal State Audits

Several of the nine Ohio cyber schools under investigation for allegedly inflating student attendance records say they will appeal state audits and challenge efforts to recover tens of millions of dollars already provided in tax money.

Many of the online schools claim that the Ohio Department of Education misled them by telling them that the state would not require records of students logging in and logging out until spring 2017, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The Ohio ed department is now looking into attendance records from 2015-2016 and, based on its findings, could demand repayment of $83 million for misleading attendance reports.

At the top of the list is Ohio’s largest online charter school, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), which may have to pay more than $60 million for 9,000 students who did not complete enough work to be considered full-time, the state ed department contends.

The other schools include Akron Digital Academy, Buckeye Online School for Success, Findlay Digital Academy, Massillon Digital Academy, Southwest Licking Digital Academy, TRECA Digital Academy, Quaker Digital Academy and Virtual Community School.

Leaders at several of the online schools said they felt state regulators duped them and plan to appeal the findings to the State Board of Education.

“We were repeatedly told we would not be held to log-in, log-out until the 2016-2017 school year,” said La Shawn Terrell, superintendent of Akron Digital Academy, in an interview with the Plain Dealer. “We believed them. This is improper, unilateral and retroactive implementation of guidelines.”

Jeff Nelson, superintendent of the Virtual Community School, which is in the Reynoldsburg School District, also said state investigators told him in February that he would not be required to track how much time kids spent online until this current school year, the Plain Dealer reported.

ECOT is currently embroiled in a court battle with the state and its education department. Late last month, Franklin County Judge Jenifer French sided with the ed department, allowing the state to review ECOT’s attendance records. ECOT had requested to block the state from requiring the school to provide log-in durations as a way of measuring how many students attended the school.

The problem of attendance at and funding for virtual, online charter schools is not limited to Ohio; in fact, it has become a national issue. California, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania have also seen controversies related to the reporting of student attendance at online charter schools.

To learn more about the cyber schools in Ohio and their attendance dilemma, view recent articles in the Plain Dealer and the Columbus Dispatch.

About the Author

Richard Chang is associate editor of THE Journal. He can be reached at [email protected].