The now closed Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow suffered a legal blow Wednesday when the Ohio Supreme Court ruled 4-2 that the state can determine funding for online schools based on how much time students are logged on for learning.
The decision bolsters the state’s effort to recover millions of dollars given to ECOT.
ECOT suspended operations Jan. 19 after it lost support from its sponsor, Educational Service Center of Lake Erie West, and it auctioned off its assets in May.
The court rejected claims by ECOT that Ohio law limits the state’s authority to use a funding formula based on the number of hours of “learning opportunities” offered by an e-school. Instead, the court determined that the state can require the e-school to provide additional data on student participation to substantiate that school’s funding.
ECOT challenged state efforts to calculate funding based on student participation data but the online school lost at the trial court, appeals court and now supreme court levels.
ECOT had been Ohio’s largest online charter school, claiming enrollment of more than 15,000 students, though state investigators concluded the true enrollment was about 60 percent fewer. In 2016, ECOT received more than $106 million in public funding from the state.
More than 1,000 students from all corners of the Miami Valley were listed as enrolled at ECOT in 2016-17, including more than 600 who lived in the Dayton school district. Another 168 lived in the Hamilton district, 94 in Springfield, 82 in Kettering and 79 in Xenia.
The four voting in the the majority on the case were Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Patrick Fischer, Mary DeGenaro and 5th District Court of Appeals Judge W. Scott Gwin, who was filling in for Justice Judith French.
Justices Terrence O’Donnell and Sharon Kennedy dissented and Justice Patrick DeWine did not participate in the decision.
O’Donnell wrote in his dissent that the Ohio Department of Education based funding to ECOT for more than a decade on enrollment data and then changed how it would calculate funding — even though there had been no change in state laws or rules.
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said in a written statement on the ruling: “Today’s victory is just another milestone in Democrats’ long fight to reform Ohio’s corrupt for-profit charter school system. It’s now up to us to hold ECOT’s favorite politicians accountable at the ballot box in November. That way we can finally bring meaningful e-charter reform to Ohio and stop future ECOTs in their tracks.”
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