YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – This year, the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) is auditing online schools’ attendance records.
The state determines how much funding the schools will receive through their students’ attendance.
Friday, Ohio’s largest online charter school, Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), filed a lawsuit against the ODE from doing that audit.
Senator Joe Schiavoni is calling it their “Hail Mary” to cover-up fraud on the state’s tax payers. He said the $107 million they receive is way over-budgeted, and that they filed the audit to try to keep that high income from the state.
“They asked for duration for how long each kid is on every single day in order to figure out funding. Rather than if they just clicked in one time in the morning, which ECOT sent over to ODE,” Schiavoni said.
In the lawsuit, ECOT said until this year they were never asked for students’ log-in durations. They said they tracked students’ initial log-in information on a daily basis.
ECOT spokesperson Neil Clark said the Ohio Revised Code doesn’t say anything about log-in duration.
“The Ohio Revised Code specifically states what is considered to be a complete FTE [full-time equivalent] for e-students and how they obtain their 920 hours per year. And there’s nowhere in the revised code that identifies this five hour rule,” Clark said.
Neil also said the lawsuit is based on the ODE not following a contract with ECOT from 2003 on how they would perform audits.
“They have decided to ignore those principles of that contract. What has been alarming to us is they have been aware of that contract. They were told about it, yet they still pursued,” Clark said.
Schiavoni said the need to audit based on duration came from the ODE finding two other e-schools, Akron Digital Academy and Lakewood Digital Academy, that collected more money than needed.
“They actually had the same audits done. ODE asked for this new information and found that they were over-paid by hundreds of thousands of dollars, and these are much smaller schools than ECOT. ECOT has 15,000 kids, Provost had 800 and they were over-paid $700,000,” Schiavoni said.
WKBN tried to contact the ODE to comment on the issue, but no one answered.