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Keystone makes claim against online charter school

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LAGRANGE — Officials in the Keystone school district realize odds are remote they will be reimbursed for a portion of more than $800,000 they claim to have lost in state and local funds since 2002 when students were first allowed to choose to be educated online instead of in a classroom.

“Do we ever expect to collect or get this money back … probably not,” Keystone Superintendent Franco Gallo said Monday about a measure that authorizes the district to bill the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow for $644,527.19.

The sum represents 80 percent of the $805,671.49 the district figures it has lost in state money and local taxpayer funds for students who have opted to receive their education from ECOT, Ohio’s biggest online charter school.

“You can debate quality, but when your kids just don’t do it, that’s different,” Gallo said. “A lot of school districts are where we are. We want to make sure our voices are heard.”

The measure is intended to draw attention to the problems that have been alleged with the ECOT system.

“A lot of things are unfair,” Gallo said. “What we want is a level playing field.”

“(ECOT) should be held to the same standards we are, and funding should be attached to that,” Gallo said.

Investigations of ECOT have found that it “demonstrates low academic performance compared to traditional public schools,” according to the resolution approved by the board, which also states ECOT has been able to account for student participation averaging just 20 percent or one hour of log-on time out of the five hours per day required by the Ohio Department of Education.

“We believe funding should be tied to the amount of time (ECOT was) able to document,” Gallo said. “Kids are supposed to be educated by the same rules.”

ECOT is in a battle with the Ohio Department of Education which the online school has sued in efforts to keep the ODE from requiring ECOT to produce records that would show daily log-in times for its students.

Such records and their accuracy are a key factor in determining how much state money a school receives.

ECOT receives about $107 million annually for more than 15,000 students.

“They’re using taxpayer dollars, and they should get a return on their investment but that is not happening,” Gallo said.

The state requires a minimum 920 hours of instruction per pupil per year and forced a much-smaller online school, Provost Academy, to pay back $800,000 after it was reviewed.

ECOT officials claim the state education department promised in February not to require five hours of log-in time each day for the current school year, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

Department of Education officials have declined to respond to ECOT’s claims.

Gallo said it is far harder to make online schools accountable for what they do and how education is imparted to students as opposed to public schools.

“We just want to make the community more aware of what’s going on so we don’t keep letting this happen,” Gallo said.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.



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