COLUMBUS (AP) — Ohio had authority to calculate a giant online charter school’s funding using student participation data rather than only enrollment, the state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday in the latest blow to the now-dismantled e-school.
The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, which had been among the nation’s largest virtual schools, closed to its roughly 12,000 students in January but remains of interest to prosecutors reviewing audit findings and politicians raising accountability issues in a midterm election year.
The Associated Press reported in April allegations by a former ECOT employee that the school intentionally inflated attendance data in order to draw more state money, a claim largely validated in state audit findings that have been referred to criminal investigators.
ECOT had argued in court that Ohio’s Department of Education overstepped its authority when it used student learning time to determine the school owed the state a $60 million refund from the 2015-16 school year. But justices sided with the state in a 4-2 decision affirming a lower court’s ruling, concluding the department acted within its authority under Ohio law.
“We determine that (the law) is unambiguous and authorizes ODE to require an e-school to provide data of the duration of a student’s participation to substantiate that school’s funding,” Justice Patrick Fischer wrote for the majority.
ECOT attorney Marion Little said the school was disappointed but would continue to pursue its administrative challenges to the Education Department in lower courts.
“The two dissenting opinions extensively detail why ECOT should have prevailed and why ECOT, the auditor’s office, even ODE, had always applied an enrollment methodology,” he said.
Justices Terrence O’Donnell and Sharon Kennedy dissented, arguing their colleagues were misinterpreting the 10-hour limit. They urged the Legislature to clarify the law. Justice Pat DeWine, whose father is the Republican nominee for governor, recused himself in the case.
FILE – In this May 9, 2017, file photo, Bill Lager, center in cap, co-founder of Ohio's largest online charter school, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow or ECOT, speaks to hundreds of supporters during a rally outside the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. The Supreme Court of Ohio ruled Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018, that the state had authority to calculate ECOT's funding using student participation data rather than only enrollment, in the latest blow to the now-dismantled online charter school. (AP Photo/Julie Carr Smyth, File)