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Published: Thursday, 11/2/2000

Enrollment soaring in Ohio charter schools


COLUMBUS - More than 17,000 Ohio schoolchildren are attending charter schools this year, an increase of 75 per cent over last year, the state said yesterday as it released official enrollment figures for the publicly funded, privately run schools.

The state estimates it will provide $93 million in aid this school year to 69 charter schools with a total enrollment of 17,080, the Department of Education said.

There were 49 community schools in Ohio the past school year with 9,724 students. The state provided $53.5 million in assistance.

The increase is consistent with national charter school trends, said Department of Education spokesman J.C. Benton. Ohio is in its third year of charter schools, established by state law in 1997.

The charter school with the highest reported enrollment is the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, a new Internet-based school whose students will work on computers out of their homes across the state.

eCOT had enrolled 2,270 students from 353 school districts as of yesterday. The state estimates it will provide the school $10.7 million in aid through the school year.

Its founders tout the school as the country's first Internet charter school. Its students include formerly homeschooled children, children with disabilities, and older students. The school has about two-thirds of the students online and working, spokesman John Ledingham said.

Some districts losing students to eCOT have criticized the school's enrollment numbers, saying they haven't been able to verify the numbers.

“The difficulty arose because we had to make an estimate in July,” Mr. Ledingham said. “Some districts were overestimated, and some were severely underestimated. Once it all pans out, it doesn't seem to be damaging any school districts.”

After eCOT, Eagle Heights Academy in Youngstown had the highest enrollment, with 836. Next was Dayton Academy with 784, followed by Life Skills Center of Akron with 695.

“We're an alternative to where the parents are sending students at the present time,” said Eagle Heights principal James LaRiccia. “Any time they're unhappy, to have an opportunity to try another place, without having to come up with money or finances, makes us attractive.”

Mr. LaRiccia said the school helps Youngstown because most Eagle Heights students hadn't done well academically before enrolling. The K-8 school, which is adding a new grade each year, has 300 children on a waiting list, Mr. LaRiccia said.

Youngstown treasurer Carolyn Funk disagreed with Mr. LaRiccia, saying the district will lose $6.8 million in state aid this year for students attending Eagle Heights. The district is paying down a $13 million debt.

“We're trading debt service payments for payments to Eagle Heights,” Ms. Funk said.

A bill that would give financial aid to public school districts hurt by the growth of charter schools stalled in the Ohio Senate this fall. That was after Governor Taft's office said it wouldn't provide a permanent solution to transportation problems caused by charter schools.

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