The state and its largest online charter school are locked in a dispute over how to prove it’s providing an education to its more than 15,000 students. That fight is not just playing out in court but through TV, radio and web ads featuring a student defense.
ECOT has been trying to make its case in the court of public opinion by hitting the airwaves with commercials that feature struggling students, such as Gabriel Young.
“I’ve been in and out of foster care. I was adopted for seven years and then put back.”
ECOT has spent about $395,000 in taxpayer money to put these ads on the air.
Young describes the support he’s received through the online charter school and accuses the Ohio Department of Education of trying to shut ECOT down.
“Why would they do that, where would I go?”
The ODE is trying to conduct an audit to find out how much instruction each ECOT student received the past school year – the law requires 920 hours, which averages out to five hours a day. If the audit determines it’s less than that, the state could pull back some of the more than $100 million that went to ECOT last year. But ECOT chides the ODE for allegedly using standards that are too high and beyond what the law requires.
Young is 18-years-old and has emancipated from the state of Ohio. He lives in his own place and works a full-time job. Young says ECOT’s systems works perfectly for him.
“I can maneuver, I can go to work, I can worry about my bills and I can still get the proper education that I need and that’s what ECOT provides,” said Young.
Part of the fight between the state education department and ECOT is over student log-in information. The state says that data can help paint a picture of how much learning is going on. But Young says being a student of ECOT isn’t limited to being online.
“You have to type up an assignment, the computer doesn’t record that. You have to study, you have to read an assignment that the teacher gave you, you have art projects that you have to do and you have to turn them in," said Young. "We do just as much work as normal kids do.”
Lawmakers who support the education department, such as Republican Sen. Peggy Lehner of Kettering, say the ODE is simply being thorough in making sure ECOT isn’t wasting taxpayer dollars.
In the past ECOT relied on a teacher certification sheet to record the hours a student learned, but the state wanted the log-in information to go with that certification.
The lawsuit is still pending and is scheduled for trial next year.