ECOT dispute may impact Washington County families

MARIETTA — Dozens of students in Washington County could be left looking for a way to continue their educations if action by the state against the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow shuts the digital charter school down.

ECOT stated in an emergency motion before the state Supreme Court filed last week that it could close as soon as January unless relief is provided. The Ohio Department of Education reduced the number of students for which the 17-year-old digital charter school is paid after examining log-in records and other data about students.

Washington County, according to school district leaders, has more than 50 students enrolled in the ECOT system. The digital charter was created to accommodate students who for one reason or another could not attend ordinary public schools.

Classes are delivered online, and students participate on a schedule and at locations that work best for them, along with other “non-classroom based learning opportunities,” in the state’s terminology.

In a letter dated Sept. 27, the Department of Education notified ECOT that data submitted by the school did not support its claim of 14,197.64 full-time equivalent students for the 2016-17 school year. The department’s calculation showed 11,574.98 FTEs. The letter indicated the school’s monthly reimbursement from the state would be reduced by 18.5 percent accordingly.

Just over a year ago, the state notified ECOT that an audit showed it could “properly” document only 6,300 of the 15,300 students it claimed in enrollment for 2015-16.

ECOT argues in its emergency motion that the state has retroactively changed the standard by which its enrollments, and consequently its reimbursements, are measured. If the state moves to recover the undocumented enrollments for last year, it could amount to about $60 million of the $109 million paid to it in per-students fees for that year.

A survey of superintendents in Washington County’s six school districts showed a total of just more than 66 students enrolled in ECOT.

Jona Hall, Marietta City Schools director of curriculum and technology, said about 25 students from within the district boundaries attend ECOT. Those students are treated as any other charter school students in that the state stipend goes to ECOT, not Marietta City Schools, she said.

“Essentially, it’s no different than if the child unenrolls with us, they completely leave the district,” she said. “It’s also a funding thing — we lose our funding for that child.”

Children enroll in ECOT or similar digital charter instruction for a wide range of reasons, she said.

“It could be scheduling, it could be health, there’s a variety of reasons that someone chooses to leave regular brick and mortar school,” she said. “Sometimes kids just do better at home.”

Marietta City Schools offers flexible programming that can accommodate students in special circumstances, she said, such as the A-Plus Program, which delivers study in single classroom where “all the crucial work is done on a computer.”

Students who come to the district from digital charters usually need help getting adjusted, she said.

“These types of schools aren’t held to the same standards we are, the grading and rigor of the curriculum are not the same,” she said. “We often find deficits when those kids return to us, and we do whatever we can when that happens.”

A spokeswoman for Superintendent Kyle Newton of Warren Local Schools said the Washington County districts all are aware of the ECOT situation and are discussing options for students who might decide to return to traditional public school instruction if they lose ECOT.

ECOT spokesman Neil Clark was not immediately available for comment.

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Students (full-time equivalents) enrolled in the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow by district in Washington County

* Fort Frye: 8.74

* Belpre: 8.68

* Frontier: 6

* Wolf Creek: 4

* Warren: 14

* Marietta: 25

* Total: 66.42

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