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The ECOT Debacle: When Charter Schools Dodge Accountability

Last September, the Ohio department of education audited the attendance records of the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), the largest online charter school in Ohio. At issue was whether the virtual schools had been inflating their attendance to maximize state funding.

The audit confirmed the suspicions. According to the DOE, only 40 percent of ECOT students met the requirements to be considered full time and therefore eligible for funding. Most students were not participating in the minimum 920 hours of “learning opportunities” required by the state. Suddenly, the school was facing penalties of more than $60 million.

ECOT officials chafed at the investigation, calling it a “charade” and insisted that they were not obligated to demonstrate that students were staying logged on to complete coursework. ECOT’s superintendent Rick Teeters argued that the state had no right to conduct the audit. Funding depended on enrollment, he said, not whether students were actually staying online. And enrollment was high – more than 15,000 students in 2016.