Chief jus­tice ques­tions on­line school’s claims

Dayton Daily News - - LOCAL & STATE - By Jim Siegel

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.”


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