Bill Protecting Ohio E-School Heads to Governor

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A bill shielding what is now Ohio’s largest online school and its sponsor from the negative consequences of accepting thousands of former Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow students is headed to Gov. John Kasich for his signature.

The House voted 70-22 on Wednesday night to give final approval to House Bill 87 shortly after the Senate amended it with language to prevent Maumee-based Ohio Virtual Academy and its sponsor from being penalized as a direct result of poor academic performance of the roughly 4,200 students who transferred earlier this year from the now closed ECOT.

The language applies to all public schools, not just e-schools although the Ohio Virtual Academy has accepted more ECOT students than any other school. State Rep. Andrew Brenner, R-Powell, chairman of the House Education Committee, said ultimately about five schools would meet the requirements for the so-called “safe harbor” provisions.

To qualify, a school’s enrollment must have increased at least 20 percent as a result of ECOT transfers.

Those students’ test scores would not count against the school’s sponsor when it comes to performance evaluations for two years. The same would be true when it comes to deciding whether the school itself would be closed for failing after three consecutive failing years—unless the school would still have received failing grades after factoring out the former ECOT students.

Before the Senate vote, Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman, voiced concern that the language could turn the Ohio Virtual Academy into another ECOT.

“We’re allowing a safe harbor for another electronic school to take the ECOT students and then say to them that it’s OK if you don’t do good because we know you have students who haven’t been doing good because there hasn’t been accountability and transparency,” he said.

“So now we’re going to give you more time to work with these students that are struggling,” Mr. Schiavoni said. “That doesn’t seem sensible to me. There has to be an end road with this.”

The House also amended a separate bill, Senate Bill 216, to include some recently proposed reforms related to the funding of Internet-based charter schools in the wake of revelations that ECOT collected tens of millions in state aid for students it couldn’t prove were logged into the system long enough to qualify as full-time students.

Among them is creation of a legislative committee to study the issue during the months the General Assembly is in summer recess with a report due on Nov. 30.

“I totally agree that it is far past time to convene a group to look at these issues, debate them vigorously, and actually take action,” said Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

ECOT closed in January, sending some 12,000 students scrambling, after its Toledo-based sponsor, the Educational Service Center of Lake Erie West, revoked its sponsorship. The school has asked the Ohio Supreme Court to rule that the state was out of line in retroactively seeking to recover nearly $80 million in past state aid.

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But while that case has been pending, the school’s assets have been auctioned off.

The language was attached to a bill sponsored by Sen. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, that was designed to decrease the number of state mandates placed on public schools.

“I’m sorry to say this bill has been hijacked,” Rep. Teresa Fedor, D-Toledo, said. “It is clear publicly elected officials want a quick fix to provide them political cover.”

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