ECOT (Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow) was a virtual charter school in Ohio.
While technically a non-profit, it sub-contracted many services from its founder’s for profit companies, generating big bucks.
It also had mind boggling high dropout rate, and having more dropouts than any other school in the country.
The business model appears to pretend to educate students, and take that money and donate a portion of it to (usually Republican) politicians to get political cover.
Eventually, after burning through about a billion dollars in state money, the Ohio Department of Education, pushed by a New York Times expose, fined them for falsifying attendance numbers, and the state auditor subpoenaed their records to ensure that records are preserved in the event of a criminal investigation.
The school closed, and has been fighting the fine, but Ohio Supreme Court has decided that reports of their demise are not exaggerated:
The Ohio Supreme Court delivered what is likely a death blow on Wednesday to the state’s largest charter school, but the political fight over ECOT is expected to go strong through the November election.
In a 4-2 ruling, the high court said the Ohio Department of Education was legally permitted to require the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow to show student log-in duration data in order to verify its enrollment and justify its state funding.
“We determine that (state law) is unambiguous and authorizes ODE to require an e-school to provide data of the duration of a student’s participation to substantiate that school’s funding,” Justice Patrick Fischer wrote for the majority, joined by Justice Mary DeGenaro, Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, and appellate Judge W. Scott Gwin, sitting in for Justice Judith French.
Like the lower courts, the majority struggled to accept the notion that online schools should get full payment for enrolled students even if they only rarely turn on their computers.
Starting in 2016, the Department of Education has ordered ECOT to repay $80 million for unverified enrollment over two years, after finding that a number of students were logging in far less than the 920 hours of instruction required by the state. ECOT sued, arguing that the department improperly changed the rules, illegally basing state funding on student participation, which is not the standard for traditional schools.
Today’s ruling confirms the expectation that Ohio’s online schools document the education they provide,” said Brittany Halpin, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Education. “Ultimately, this is what’s best for students and taxpayers alike. We’re pleased the Ohio Supreme Court agreed with the Department’s interpretation of the law and we remain committed to ensuring that all community schools receive their correct funding.”
I would note that this sort of corruption is the rule, not the exception with charter schools.
Almost every time that there is a comprehensive audit of a charter, a morass of self dealing and corruption is revealed.