LORAIN — Local officials gathered Thursday at Lorain City Hall to chastise state officials, specifically Republicans, for the way one of the state’s largest and now-defunct charter schools was monitored.
The rally, which was put on by progressive-aligned organization For Our Future Ohio, was one of three similar events that occurred throughout Northeast Ohio with earlier stops being made in Cleveland and Akron.
Stephen Dyer, an education policy fellow at Innovation Ohio, a partner with For Our Future Ohio, said since 2000, Ohio taxpayers had given more than $1.1 billion to the online charter school Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, or ECOT.
“The problem with ECOT was a lot of that money went to kids that were never there,” he said. “Since 2000, at least
$189 million went to students who were never there.”
Dyer said the school always had a problem keeping track of its students, but in 2015 — the same year the Ohio Department of Education rules for tracking student work changed — the online school tracked two out of five students that it said it was educating.
“Even the kids they did have didn’t receive a good education,” he said, noting in a recent state report card, the school earned an F grade in 46 out of 53 categories. “In 2009 and 2010, 7,261 kids graduated from ECOT, and today 236 of those kids have college degrees.”
Lorain Councilwoman Mary Springowski, D-at large, said she has a real problem with the “ignorance is bliss” attitude statewide elected officials, including Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike DeWine, had toward the school before it closed in January.
The school shuttered its metaphorical doors after it was forced to return money following two court rulings that determined students weren’t working enough hours online.
“The hypocrisy of them lauding and supporting ECOT in their audits and chastising our schools is ridiculous,” she said. “Their graduation rate was 35 percent graduation rate and we had 73. I have real issues with that.”
The Lorain school district is getting ready to enter its second year with a CEO at the helm instead of a traditional superintendent and school board model as part of stipulations in state House Bill 70.
House Bill 70, which was passed in 2015, uses state report card scores to place academically struggling districts under “academic distress” and then outlines a takeover plan should the scores not improve.
“Lorain is the subject of a state takeover because of struggling performance,” Dyer said. “Lorain outperformed ECOT substantially on these measures and if Lorain and their performance is so concerning to state officials that they need to take it over, why wasn’t ECOT’s performance a concern?”
Lorain County Commissioner Matt Lundy said he and Dyer were both in the statehouse while rules for online charter schools were being ironed out and a major concern he had about these schools was accountability.
“Whenever ECOT wouldn’t perform well instead of the state saying, ‘How are you going to hold yourself accountable?’” he said. “They just threw out the performance reports instead.”
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