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State to audit online schools for accountability

Auditor: Do schools know if kids are participating?

Ohio will conduct a statewide audit to examine whether online schools really know how much time students spend engaged in learning.

Auditor of State Dave Yost announced the plan Thursday after an audit of the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow showed the school did not have adequate systems in place to do so.

ECOT’s audit generally was generally clean, with an “unmodified” opinion on its financial statements. But Yost called the student tracking issue “a material weakness in the online charter school’s financial controls.”

RELATED: Ohio Democrats, Republicans fight over charter schools

“Durational data” is now required by the Ohio Department of Education to show precisely how much time each student spent learning. Previously, ODE used enrollment and certifications by teachers to determine funding.

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“Under these new standards, ECOT and many other e-schools will struggle to comply, and all are likely to owe something to the state,” Yost said. “There are other steps yet to occur in the legal system, including in the Court of Appeals and at the state Board of Education. Ultimately, the legislature may need to consider whether duration is the appropriate measure for funding an e-school.”

RELATED: Dayton Public to launch its own online school

ODE’s full-time equivalency (FTE) review of ECOT showed many fewer students actually participating in the state standard of 920 hours learning than the school claimed. The state told Ohio’s largest school, with more than 15,000 students, to repay $59 million in state funding. ECOT has challenged that ruling in appeals court and to the state school board.

ECOT officials have argued that the Ohio Department of Education changed its interpretation on hours of instruction in the middle of last school year, so the school should not be held accountable for that standard.

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