Chief justice questions online school’s claims
As ECOT attorney Marion Little wrapped up his arguments for why state law says the online school should get full funding for students even if they rarely log in and do no work, Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor interjected, “How is that not absurd?” Little insisted it wasn’t. “There are other ways of testing whether or not a community school is discharging its responsibility,” he replied. “We make a distinction between how is funding done, than how are schools evaluated ... the state has tried to confuse funding with other metrics.”
The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow was before the Supreme Court on Tuesday in a fight for its existence. The state’s largest charter school shut down three weeks ago when its sponsor suspended operations because the school was set to run out of money in March.
The closure impacted hundreds of teachers and about 12,000 students.
It appears the only way for ECOT to reopen next year is if the Supreme Court agrees that the state Department of Education illegally imposed a retroactive rule change that led to ECOT owing the state about $80 million for unverified enrollment.
Unlike past attendance reviews that relied on ECOT teachers verifying students were “offered” the state-minimum 920 hours of educational opportunities, the Education Department in 2016 beefed up its oversight. It started requiring online schools to prove student participation through log-in durations and offline documentation.
Little argued that the law gave the department no authority to make that change, and that funding in Ohio has always been based on enrollment, not attendance.
“Isn’t there an obligation on the part of the student to be present in class in order to justify the use of taxpayer money on a per-capita basis?” O’Connor asked Little.
Little said there is an expectation that all students, regardless of the school, will attend class. “But that is not a focus of funding.”
Justice Mary DeGenaro, a Republican recently appointed to the court, asked Little that if a child did no work for a year and couldn’t advance to the next grade, “if I understand your argument, your client would be entitled to payment for that child just because they were enrolled for the school year?”
Little said yes, “just like would happen at a brickand-mortar school.”
Under the law, Little said, a student needs to log in once every month to remain enrolled and qualify for full state funding.
“In a traditional school, there is no measure of duration whatsoever,” Little said. “Funding is premised solely on enrollment. It doesn’t matter if a student is sick, delinquent or engaged whatsoever, there is no consequence to a brick-and-mortar school.”