Accountable: ECOT may deserve closer scrutiny

Ohio’s relationship with ECOT — the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow — warrants further scrutiny by lawmakers. The online charter school made it past the first step last week toward becoming one of the state’s dropout recovery schools, which would instantly raise the program’s grade level with the state from an F to a C.

ECOT was able to make progress in its quest to be considered a dropout recovery school with no audit of its claim that the majority of its students are in need of special programs for at-risk students. Mind-bogglingly, ECOT got that free pass even after Buckeye State officials notified the program it owed an additional $20 million for failing to properly verify its enrollment during the 2016-17 school year. (ECOT already owes the Ohio Department of Education $60 million for potentially inflating its enrollment numbers in 2015-16, or at the very least failing to prove that 59 percent of its students actually participated enough in the online programs to be counted.)

Last year, the state says it was only 18.5 percent of ECOT’s students whose classwork could not be verified to a degree that would qualify them as enrolled.

Why on earth would officials blindly take ECOT’s word for it that a majority of its students are at-risk, when the program cannot even properly prove how many students are enrolled?

Improving to a C grade means the Educational Service Center of Lake Erie West preserves its ratings with the state, and both the ESC and ECOT avoid losing the right to run or sponsor schools.

ECOT is not out of the woods. They will undergo an audit late this school year to determine whether the majority of its students are between the ages of 16 and 21, as Ohio law requires. But if they can meet that requirement, they will get the free pass on the improvement to a C grade.

Perhaps lawmakers should launch a more thorough investigation of a program that already has taken $80 million from Ohio taxpayers it cannot prove it deserved.