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Ohio Districts Lost Thousands to ECOT, Report Says

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Cary Ashby, The Norwalk Reflector (Ohio)

A report released by Innovation Ohio, a progressive think tank, indicates the nine schools in the Reflector readership area lost an average of nearly $482,633 over the last six years to ECOT.

ECOT, an online charter school, closed during the middle of this academic year amid accusations it overcharged the state of Ohio for students who weren’t actually enrolled. Innovation Ohio describes itself on its website as “a new type of policy think tank” based out of Columbus.

Some school administrators said those figures could be inflated.

The report covers six years, starting with the 2012-’13 academic year.

According to Innovation Ohio, Norwalk City Schools lost the most of the nine local schools at slightly more than a million dollars, while the next highest was Willard City Schools at nearly $898,000. At $99,333 over the six years, Monroeville Local Schools was losing the least funding among the districts in the Reflector readership area.

New London Local Schools was listed at losing $742,318 over the six-year period.

Superintendent Brad Romano said the district receives roughly $6,000 in revenue per student each year in state aid, which “fluctuates based on the budget and other factors,” but even based on that estimate, he believes the Innovation Ohio “number still seems inflated.”

“I don’t know where they’re pulling them from, at the end of the day,” he added.

Norwalk City Schools Treasurer Joyce Dupont said the district lost “about $715,000 a year total to community schools of which ECOT is one of many.”

“ECOT had between five to 20 (Norwalk) students. Last year we lost $117,935 to just ECOT, which a portion is local tax dollars due to the method the state uses to fund community schools,” she added.

The Innovation Ohio report put Columbus City Schools at the top of the list with nearly $63 million in funding going to ECOT.

According to FOX 28 in Columbus, several urban districts ranked at the top, “but school officials from across Ohio at the release of the report said rural districts were also hit hard.”

In New London, Romano said seven students enrolled in ECOT last year, which doesn’t compare to undisclosed “neighboring districts” that lost funding for students in double digits.

Of those seven New London students, after ECOT closed, the superintendent said two returned to the district, one moved away, another student was about 20 years old and found schooling elsewhere, while the last three students “enrolled in another online platform.” Romano estimated the district lost about $18,000 in state aid with those three pupils.

“The youngest (of the seven) would have been entering the sixth grade,” he said.

Western Reserve Local Schools had five students enrolled in ECOT last year.

“I have confirmed we got two of those kids back,” said Superintendent Rodge Wilson, noting it’s hard to track former ECOT students “because they don’t have to tell you where they are.”

With ECOT being “more popular earlier on,” he said there probably were more Western students enrolled six years ago. Innovation Ohio listed the district losing $370,290 since the 2012-’13 academic year, but the district treasurer’s office indicates the total figure was nearly $351,286.

“When ECOT did close in January, we only had three resident students attending ECOT,” South Central Local Schools Superintendent Ben Chaffee Jr. said. “One of those students actually re-enrolled in our school district. One enrolled in another community school and a third enrolled in a non-public school.

The report showed South Central lost $233,004 during the six-year period.

“The financial impact for us was minimal with the minimum amount of students we had at ECOT,” Chaffee said, referring to last year’s loss.

Wilson was asked what schools could do to keep students attending brick-and-mortar buildings instead of enrolling at online schools. He said districts need to be more flexible with what they offer, noting that since the start of education there have been students who don’t do as well in an actual classroom.

Ralph Moore, Monroeville superintendent, said schools should “create and maintain a safe environment” to keep students attending the brick-and-mortar buildings.

“Secondly we need to offer a diversified curriculum that provides opportunities for our kids and thirdly, just a positive overall experience (and) positive environment,” he added.

Three options offered at Western are: College Credit Plus, its opportunity school and “flex credit,” in which students are given credit for classes if they pass a competency test.

“ODE largely leaves that up to the school,” Wilson said, referring to flex credit.

At the Western opportunity school, he said students take online classes, but still are afforded the social settings that the school offers.

“We just finished our third year,” the superintendent added. “We have a handful of kids that that works for.”

The state of Ohio has been trying to get about $80 million in taxpayer money returned for inflating enrollment numbers, according to FOX 28. ECOT at its peak was the nation’s largest online charter school and hailed as a viable school choice for students.

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Cary Ashby, The Norwalk Reflector (Ohio)

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