Over the objections of three state lawmakers and several citizens, the University of Toledo Charter School Council yesterday approved unanimously the contract for an online school for children educated at home.
Two other proposed charter schools also received the council's acceptance in the first phase of their applications.
But the controversy surrounded a proposal by White Hat Ventures of Akron - the Ohio Distance & Electronic Learning Academy - for which the council approved a contract.
The academy will provide computers, lesson plans, textbooks, and workbooks, and have teachers on staff for students throughout Ohio who will work on their lessons in their homes.
Some council members questioned how the academy would safeguard against student miscounts - and receiving an incorrect amount of state funds, currently $4,814 per student - in light of a state auditor's report this week.
Auditor Jim Petro found overpayment of $1.7 million to the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow for students who were not enrolled.
Some school detractors had the same question.
“I'd like to know what action the board has taken to prevent another fiasco,” state Rep. Chris Redfern (D., Catawba Island) said.
Mark Thimmig, president of White Hat, said parents would be trained on how to report their children's lesson time.
White Hat executives describe the academy as a school for home-schooling parents, who will report to master teachers but will have some choice about their children's curriculum.
But Peggy Daly-Masternak of Toledo, a mother who home-schools, said the academy's program will not appeal to families who educate their children at home.
“There was no systematic way that home schoolers were sought out or provided a forum to respond to this proposal,” Ms. Daly-Masternak said. “Any blurring of the very distinct line between home-schooling and enrolling in school, and then any future legislation for charter schools, will continue to impact home schoolers' right.”
State Rep. Diana Fessler (R., New Carlisle), a member of the House Education Committee, has home-schooled her six children. She said White Hat misrepresented the academy in stating the school offered support to home schoolers, who are not part of the state school system.
“They will be enrolled in a public school,” Ms. Fessler said.
State Sen. Jim Jordan (R., Urbana) and a few other citizens spoke in support of the academy.
“The kids are the focus of what this is all about,” Mr. Jordan said. As Americans, “We like choices. That is what this school is all about. It's about giving mom and dad more choices in what they think is right for their kids.”
But state Rep. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo) said the council was “un-American” in not giving ample notice of its meeting and not allowing people to speak for more than three minutes.
“This is a rubber-stamp board,” Ms. Fedor said. “Not enough time has passed for the appropriate evaluation.”
Council chairwoman Mary Jo Waldock, interim dean of UT's university college, said the council limited public comment because one member had to leave at 2:30 p.m. - the meeting was scheduled to begin at 1 p.m., but started nearly 20 minutes late - and the remaining members present would not be a quorum allowing them to vote.
Sally Perz, a member of the council, said the council rejected the legislators' repeated requests for a delay on the contract vote because “there isn't any reason to. We have done our due diligence. We have spent a lot of time on this, and I didn't see any reason to.”
Also yesterday, the council moved forward the application of Virtual Community Schools of Ohio, backed by developers and primary investors in the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, the state's first on-line charter school.
It will return for the council's second approval step with a more detailed proposal.
And the council moved forward the application of The Life Skills Center, which will assist students ages 16 to 22 receive a high school diploma.
The center is operated by White Hat, which has several such sites throughout Ohio.