Virtual Charter Schools

Ohio's Largest Charter School Loses Attempt to Block Attendance Audit

Ohio’s largest charter school and largest online K-12 school, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), lost an attempt in court Monday to block a state audit of its attendance and state funding.

ECOT had filed a suit against the state Friday to stop the Ohio Department of Education from requiring that the school provide records of daily student log-in times, which the ed department found in an initial review “did not substantiate five hours per day … for the students reviewed.” ECOT argued that it has an established contract that can’t be undone and the audit would threaten tens of millions of dollars it receives in taxpayer funding.

On Monday, Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Stephen McIntosh denied ECOT’s request to stop the audit, which was scheduled to begin this week.

About 15,000 students attend the online school, and the state is investigating how much time those students spend logged onto classes and doing other classwork on their computers, either on or offline.

ECOT received between $107 million and $108 million in state funding for the 2015-16 school year, and Ohio officials are wondering whether the company overcharged the state if students are not spending at least five hours per day on “learning opportunities,” as ECOT’s policy requires. Students must meet 920 hours of school time per year, according to state law.

ECOT Superintendent Rick Teeters told supporters in a message Monday that the state has changed some rules for counting learning time, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Those changes, he said, make the audit an “underhanded” attempt to “eliminate” the school.

But in court filings, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office said ECOT is raising a premature “false alarm” to quash the audit because there is no immediate financial impact, the Plain Dealer reported. Even if the audit determines that ECOT has to reimburse the state, ECOT can later appeal to the state school board or to the court.

The problem of attendance at virtual charter schools is not limited to Ohio; in fact, it has become a national issue. On Friday, California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced that Virginia-based K12 Inc. and the California Virtual Academies (CAVA) it operates agreed to a $168.5 million settlement over allegations that K12 and CAVA manipulated attendance records, engaged in false advertising and overstated the academic progress of students. 

CAVA and K12 are still undergoing an audit by the California controller’s office and the state Department of Education over similar issues of attendance and spending of public education funds.

About the Author

Richard Chang is associate editor of THE Journal. He can be reached at rchang@1105media.com.

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