Local educators would like to see the money taken from their districts to fund the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow — once the state’s largest online charter school — returned to them after a state auditor on Thursday announced that the charter may have broken the law.
“I hope we get every penny back. I am optimistic we will,” said Keystone Superintendent Franco Gallo, who will soon take the lead at the Educational Service Center of Lorain County. “It is frustrating because Keystone and the other Lorain County schools do their best every day to follow the rules, and this loss of funds will be at the district and local taxpayers’ expense.”
In September, Keystone board members passed a resolution asking the state to reimburse the district for some of the money lost in state and local funds since 2002 when students first enrolled in ECOT. The total owed to the district is $644,527.19 by Keystone’s calculations.
The resolution was passed in the midst of a battle between ECOT and the Ohio Department of Education that ultimately led to the charter school shutting down its program in January. On Thursday, Auditor David Yost released details of an audit of the online charter school which claimed ECOT officials withheld information used in calculating payments and inflated the amount of time students spent learning by not deducting the time they were inactive online.
Yost said ECOT also didn’t document whether students were learning during times the company claimed for payment.
“ECOT officials had the ability to provide honest, accurate information to the state and they chose not to,” Yost said. “By withholding information, ECOT misled state regulators at the Department of Education, and ECOT was paid based on that information.”
Yost said that could rise to a criminal act and he referred his findings to state and federal prosecutors for review.
School officials had strong reactions the revelations.
“It is disheartening to think about how many tax dollars have been siphoned from public schools to fund ECOT over the years,” said Amherst Superintendent Steve Sayers.
Elyria estimated a total loss of $1.1 million in state and local funding to ECOT. As ECOT has been accused of having a student participation rate of just 20 percent — one hour out of the five hours per day required by the Ohio Department of Education — Elyria submitted a claim to ODE in 2016 asking for 80 percent of its money back, or $933,394.05.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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