COLUMBUS — Ohio’s largest online charter school has sued the state in an effort to block an upcoming attendance audit that could affect tens of millions of dollars it gets in state funding.
The lawsuit by the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, or ECOT, seeks to block the state Department of Education from forcing it to provide records of when students logged in, The Columbus Dispatch reported.
A preliminary review by the state raised questions about ECOT’s attendance figures, which help determine a school’s funding. ECOT gets about $107 million annually for its 15,000-plus students, who work on computers instead of showing up to a classroom daily.
The department was set to begin a final attendance review of the school this week to check whether students are meeting the required threshold of 920 hours.
The lawsuit filed Friday alleges the state previously “never requested or sought documentation of log-in durations” to determine funding and is retroactively trying to apply new standards.
ECOT also contends its 2003 funding agreement with the department requires that 920 hours of learning opportunities are presented but doesn’t require that students attend 920 hours of classroom time. The lawsuit also says that using log-in times to calculate attendance breaks the state’s agreement with the school.
“We have a contract, and you can’t unilaterally end a contract,” ECOT consultant Neil Clark told the newspaper.
The Department of Education wouldn’t address the allegations but said in a statement that it remains committed to completing “our regulatory duty to conduct the final attendance review and ensuring that appropriate funding is distributed to all charter schools,” the newspaper reported.
An attendance review for a smaller online school a year ago forced that school to pay back about 80 percent in state funding.
The chairwoman of the Ohio Senate Education Committee, Republican Peggy Lehner of Kettering, said taxpayers shouldn’t be paying the school merely to offer something.
“We have a huge number of kids not taking advantage of an opportunity to learn, and we need to fix that,” she said.
Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni, a Boardman Democrat who introduced an online-attendance bill, said ECOT should be able to track student log-in times.
“At the root of the lawsuit is they want to do very little and get a lot of money for it,” Schiavoni said.