Sunday, Dec 17, 2017
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Education

ECOT appeal won't be fast-tracked

COLUMBUS — The Ohio Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a plea from the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow to fast-track its appeal of the state’s efforts to claw back tens of millions of subsidy dollars for over-reporting student attendance.

The online charter school, sponsored by the Educational Service Center of Lake Erie West, argued that it could be forced to close during the current school year without an expedited decision.

The court voted 5-1, without comment, not to speed up the appeal. Justice Terrence O’Donnell cast the sole dissenting vote while Justice William O’Neill did not participate in the decision as part of his decision not to participate in new cases while he remains a candidate for governor.

“Absent emergency relief, ECOT — which, unlike traditional public schools, has no local tax dollars to provide any type of safety net — now faces closure,” reads the motion filed by ECOT’s Columbus attorneys.

“Indeed, ECOT will sustain a month-end negative cash balance by March, 2018 — in the middle of the 2017-2018 school year,” it reads. “Because a public school cannot operate with such a balance, that would result in, among other things, the loss of more than 800 jobs and force nearly 12,000 students across Ohio to find a new school, or in the case of older students taking high school courses, to potentially drop out altogether.”

In September, the Ohio Department of Education determined that ECOT again over-reported student attendance for the Internet-based school for the 2016-17 school year. It determined that the school must repay $19.2 million of the more than $100 million in student-based state aid it received for the year.

This is on top of the $60 million it had already determined that the school owed for the 2015-16 school year. The state has been deducting $2.5 million from the school’s current monthly subsidies to recover the money as the school has failed to convince a court to come to its aid.

In its response to ECOT’s motion, the Ohio attorney general’s office said the school “cries poor” even though it has received more than $800 million in taxpayer funds over the years.

“Perhaps even more to the point, for years, roughly 20 percent of the amount ECOT receives has gone straight to two private for-profit entities owned by William Lager, ECOT’s founder and lead spokesperson in this dispute,” it reads.

“Somewhere in that mountain of public dollars must be a ‘safety net’ that could (and should) be made available to sustain ECOT through the duration of this action, if ECOT’s leadership in fact believes that its statutory interpretation arguments have merit,” the state’s motion reads.

The case continues to go through the normal brief-filing process. No oral arguments have been scheduled before the court.

The school argues that ODE did not have authority to impose a requirement mandating that its students being logged in for certain amounts of time to qualify as full-time students.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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