Classroom Technology

Online Ohio Charter Takes Feud with State Ed. Department to Airwaves

By Leo Doran — August 05, 2016 2 min read
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On the heels of a defeat in court, Ohio’s largest online charter school has escalated its fight with state officials by airing TV ads in some of the state’s largest media markets.

The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, which has 14,000 students enrolled across the state, sued Ohio’s department of education in a failed attempt to block the agency from accessing the login records of its students, according to the Associated Press.

The cyber charter alleged that the request for student login records to its online platform violated a 2003 contract and is a thinly veiled attempt by the state to curb funding to the school, which receives per-pupil funding from the state.

State officials, meanwhile, sought access to the records amid reports that many students enrolled in the charter school are logging in for far less than the five hours per day that constitutes full-time enrollment.

With the records in hand, if the state determines that students aren’t actually attending the virtual classes, it could cut back funding significantly--an action it has already taken with other online schools, such as the much smaller Provost Academy.

In response to a court order to hand over its records, the charter produced two ads that admonish state officials to “Keep your word” and “Keep ECOT Open.” The two spots have reportedly run across the state including in Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland. Each features a student speaking directly to the camera, extolling the school’s impact on their lives.

Here’s one of the clips:

In one spot, the student recalls that after years of bullying and school changes, the cyber-charter allowed her to “finally learn at my own pace.” She then bashes “bureaucrats at the Ohio department of Education” for “breaking their word, and trying to close my school.”

The academic performance of virtual charters, both in Ohio and nationwide, has come under fire recently. A recently published study showed students in Ohio’s cyber charters performing below that of traditional public schools peers--and that virtual schools dragged down the performance of the state’s charter schools, overall.

Meanwhile, critics of the ECOT charter are scoffing at the group’s decision to run the paid spots, particularly when the school receives 88 percent of its’ funding from the same state department of education that it’s targeting.

When asked about the ads, a state education department spokesperson issued the following statement to EdWeek via email:

“The Department is committed to ensuring that all community schools receive their correct funding, and that community schools are actually providing the educational services and programming for which Ohio taxpayers are paying. Given the litigation that is currently pending between ECOT and the Department, we have no further comment at this time.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.