Ohio Supreme Court to review ECOT appeal

By: - April 15, 2020 12:30 am

Pictured is the Thomas J. Moyer Ohio Judicial Center where the Ohio Supreme Court meets. Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons..

The Ohio Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to take up the case of a former online charter school that is fighting the Ohio State Board of Education over funding standards.

The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) filed an appeal in February of this year, arguing for the state high court to hear the case by saying the appeal involved a substantial constitutional question. The now-defunct for-profit charter school argued that the appellate courts did not have the right to reconsider final court decisions.

“If allowed to stand, the standard (or lack thereof) for reconsideration applied below would allow appellate courts to change their otherwise final and binding decisions any time enough judges on the original panel subsequently change their minds — even without consideration of any new facts or legal authorities,” lawyers for ECOT stated in the most recent appeal.

The state is also attempting to get $60 million in funding back that they say was lost when the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) overstated their enrollment, though that case has been delayed until later this year. Ohio-based think tank Innovation Ohio has estimated ECOT overbilled Ohio taxpayers at least $189 million since 2000.

In 2018, ECOT lost another appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court in which the court said the state board of education and the Ohio Department of Education were right to require proof of student participation in classes to justify online schools getting state funding.

In upholding the Tenth District Court of Appeals opinion, the 3 concurring justices said the department of education and the legislature had made clear the need for proof of student hours to allow state funding.

“Enrollment creates the potential for funding, but the amount of funding and any adjustments to it are to be calculated based on a student’s participation on a ‘full-time equivalency basis,'” the justices wrote in the decision. “In order to calculate funding, ODE is authorized to consider evidence of the duration of a student’s participation.”

In the dissent of the 2018 ruling, Justice Terrence O’Donnell called on the General Assembly to be the ones to “clarify its intent with regard to the question of funding for online community schools.”

“More than 10,000 students across our state have been affected by today’s singular decision, and thousands more could be affected by the precedent set by this decision,” O’Donnell wrote.

Justice Pat DeWine did not participate in the 2018 decision, and Fifth District Court of Appeals Judge W. Scott Gwin sat in for Justice Judith French in concurring on the appeal. Justice Sharon Kennedy also wrote in dissent of the court’s opinion.

No timeline was provided for oral arguments in the current appeal.

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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow (KY) Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.