Ohio Auditor: Withhold funding for giant online school

State Auditor Dave Yost has asked the Ohio Department of Education to withhold “a significant portion” 2017-18 funding for the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), the embattled online school at the center of multiple lawsuits over how many students attended the school.

Yost doesn’t want the money paid until ECOT’s enrollment can be verified.

ECOT has received more than $100 million in state funding each of the past two years. But the Ohio Department of Education just started “clawing back” $60 million it paid the school in 2015-2016 because it found the school’s enrollment that year was closer to 6,000 students. The school had claimed it had 15,000 students that year. That clawback amounts to $2.5 million per month for 24 months.

RELATED: How does the state budget change your schools’ funding?

Ohio Department of Education spokeswoman Brittany Halpin said ODE is in the process of reviewing ECOT’s claimed 2016-17 enrollment of 14,200 online students to see if the same problem existed last school year.

But in the meantime, 2017-18 funding has begun, and July-September monthly payments are always based on previous year enrollment. Since ODE’s review of that enrollment is not finished, that means ECOT just received a July 13 payment of $8.1 million (before clawback), as if it had 14,200 full-time equivalent students.

RELATED: What you need to know about Ohio’s graduation changes

That would put it on target for another year of roughly $100 million in funding. And that’s what triggered Yost’s letter to state Superintendent Paolo DeMaria.

“While I recognize your standard practice is to fund charter schools in advance of the school year commencing, facts unique to ECOT’s situation warrant a different approach at this time,” Yost wrote.

RELATED: Two state tests eliminated for Ohio students

Asked for an ODE response to Yost’s request, Halpin said only, “We’ve received Auditor Yost’s letter and we’re reviewing it.”

The enrollment spat centered on whether ECOT merely had to “present” 920 hours of “learning opportunities” for students, or whether its students had to be logged on and engaged in school activities. ECOT offers classes online which students may take from home.

ECOT fought and lost multiple court challenges, but it still has appeals pending with the state Supreme Court. ECOT spokesman Neil Clark did not return messages seeking comment.

RELATED: Dayton Public launching its own online school

Based on the 14,200 enrollment number, ECOT had thousands of students in southwest Ohio, including 627 living in the Dayton school district, 168 in Hamilton, and 94 in Springfield.

Yost said there is “no way to reconcile” ECOT still having the same 14,200 students it claimed for funding purposes last year. He cited a statement from ECOT’s July 6 legal brief to the Supreme Court, in which the school said the ongoing legal battle led to “unprecedented enrollment losses.”

RELATED: State audits onlline schools for accountability

ECOT Superintendent Rick Teeters has testified that being forced to pay back the $60 million would put the school into a “death spiral.” Yost cited that quote as a reason not to send ECOT full funding this year, arguing that the state may find it ever harder to reclaim that money.

“It defies logic that there would not have been some out-migration from ECOT to traditional schools or other charters,” Yost wrote, in making his case to impound funding. “If the ECOT enrollment (turns out to be) accurate, the money can be released.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

2 transported to hospital following head-on crash in Greene County
2 transported to hospital following head-on crash in Greene County

Two people were transported to Miami Valley Hospital following a crash which left Treibein Road close for nearly 90 minutes, said Sgt. Rod Murphy of the Xenia Ohio State Highway Patrol. A man and woman were trapped inside a 2007 Honda Civic after it hit head-on with another vehicle, Murphy said. He said he does not believe their injuries are life-threatening...
Male reportedly stabbed in the neck in Springfield
Male reportedly stabbed in the neck in Springfield

Police responded to a second reported stabbing in Springfield Sunday. Emergency crews were dispatched on a report of a male with a neck wound from a stabbing in the 1700 block of Mound Street around 7:50 p.m. The two reported stabbings occurred within an hour of each other. We are on our way to the scene to learn more.
Female reportedly stabbed in Springfield
Female reportedly stabbed in Springfield

Emergency crews responded to Rice Street in Springfield Sunday around 6:55 p.m., according to Springfield dispatch. Initial reports indicated a female was stabbed in the 200 block of Rice Street, but we are working to confirm these reports. No further information was provided. We are working to learn more and will update this page as information becomes...
Homearama announces 2019 location
Homearama announces 2019 location

The official groundbreaking ceremony for the 56th Homearama will be held 10 a.m. Oct. 9 at Deerfield Twp.’s Kensington community, according to the Home Builders Association of Greater Cincinnati. Homearama 2019 will be held June 8-23. It will mark the 18th time Homearama is being held in Warren County. Developed by Erbeck Development Co., Kensington...
Habitat for Humanity home dedicated in Sidney
Habitat for Humanity home dedicated in Sidney

A Sidney Habitat for Humanity home was dedicated Sunday afternoon. Kelly Beemer and her three daughters were ready to move into their new four-bedroom home in the 500 block of Second Ave. “This is somewhere for my girls to come home and just be able to do whatever they want in their own room,” Beemer said on what the home means to her. ...
More Stories