Even for ECOT, Rules Are Rules

Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor summed up the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow’s argument against state officials in one sentence on Tuesday.

“How is that not absurd?” she asked an ECOT attorney.

For years, ECOT got away with a scheme that would have resulted in a state takeover of any public school system. But ECOT officials, operating under now-amended Ohio charter school rules, got away with it for a time.

ECOT collected state subsidies for educating children based on the number of them signed up for its online classes. But when it came to providing how many of those students actually were logging in to online classes, ECOT was unable to provide the proof state officials wanted.

That resulted in the state suspending payments to ECOT. In addition, state officials have taken steps to collect about $80 million paid improperly to ECOT.

Online programs by ECOT were shut down about three weeks ago. That affected about 12,000 students and hundreds of teachers.

ECOT officials took the state to court, insisting they should not have to repay the money. That led to oral arguments this week before Ohio’s highest court.

Incredibly, ECOT attorneys seem to be resting their case on a contention their client should be paid solely on the basis of how many students signed up for online classes, without regard to how many actually participated. “We make a distinction between how is funding done (rather) than how are schools evaluated,” insisted one attorney.

That prompted O’Connor to voice her criticism.

But the argument descended to an even more absurd level. An ECOT attorney said such a funding system would be “just like (what) would happen at a brick-and-mortar school.”

If he was referring to Ohio public schools, he is dead wrong.

It is true public school systems receive state aid based on enrollment. But they also are required to report attendance, among other aspects of how well they are serving students. Failure to do so — or, as Ohio residents saw a few years ago when a few public school systems lied about attendance — can land education officials in very hot water.

For years, we argued charter schools in Ohio needed to be held to the same quality standards established for public schools. Finally, state officials saw the light on that and began holding charters, like ECOT, to more rigorous requirements.

Clearly, high court justices should reject the ECOT argument. To allow it or any other charter school to skate past reasonable performance standards would be, well, absurd.