ECOT asks Ohio Supreme Court to ad­dress $60M

The Columbus Dispatch - - Front Page - By Randy Lud­low lud­low@dis­patch.com @RandyLud­low

The Elec­tronic Class­room of To­mor­row is again turn­ing to the Ohio Supreme Court in its fight against the state, ask­ing the jus­tices to over­turn an ap­pel­late court rul­ing that said the State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion legally or­dered the on­line char­ter school to re­pay $60 mil­lion in state aid.

The school’s lat­est ap­peal, filed Fri­day in the high court, asks the jus­tices to over­turn the Feb. 27 rul­ing by the Franklin County Court of Ap­peals that found that the state board did not vi­o­late the Open Meet­ings Act while con­sid­er­ing what ac­tion to take against the now­shut­tered on­line char­ter school.

An ear­lier ap­peal by ECOT ar­gu­ing that the Ohio Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion il­le­gally changed the rules on count­ing on­line stu­dents, lead­ing to the state de­mand for re­pay­ment, re­mains pend­ing be­fore the Ohio Supreme Court. The school in to­tal was or­dered to re­pay nearly $80 mil­lion for un­ver­i­fied en­roll­ment.

The more re­cent ap­peal said the State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion met il­le­gally while de­cid­ing what ac­tion to take while con­duct­ing a “quasi-ju­di­cial” hear­ing in which ECOT par­tic­i­pated. The ap­pel­late court rul­ing will lead to a “Pan­dora’s box” of law­suits over the re­quire­ments of the Open Meet­ings Act, the fil­ing stated.

ECOT, which sus­pended op­er­a­tions in Jan­uary af­ter 17 years, has filed mul­ti­ple le­gal chal­lenges — all so far un­suc­cess­ful — in a bid to block the state from re­cov­er­ing the over­pay­ments.

In June, the state board or­dered ECOT to re­pay the money af­ter in­ves­ti­ga­tors used com­puter log-in du­ra­tions and off­line doc­u­men­ta­tion to ver­ify 6,313 full-time ECOT stu­dents.

That was about 60 per­cent fewer stu­dents than the 15,322 that ECOT had claimed. Ohio pays schools on a per-pupil ba­sis.

ECOT of­fi­cials have dis­puted the find­ings, ar­gu­ing be­fore the jus­tices that the depart­ment il­le­gally changed the rules for count­ing stu­dents and vi­o­lated a 2003 agree­ment that the e-school had only to “of­fer” stu­dents 920 hours of learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties.

A spe­cial mas­ter is over­see­ing the fi­nan­cial dis­man­tling of ECOT’s re­main­ing as­sets in a sep­a­rate ac­tion in Franklin County Com­mon Pleas Court. ECOT had re­paid about $17 mil­lion to the state, de­ducted on a monthly ba­sis, when its spon­sor shut it down out of con­cern that the school would soon run out of money and be un­able to pay its debts and em­ploy­ees.

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