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Online schools to get scrutiny

Saturday, August 13, 2016

A little more than a year ago, after much earlier balking, state lawmakers moved a charter-school reform package that backers said would make publicly funded community schools more accountable and open to public scrutiny.

The legislation included increased disclosure of charter contracts, facility costs, attendance policies and other details of their operation. And failed charters were blocked from entering contracts with new sponsors without state approval.

You’d be hard pressed to find universal agreement among Republicans and Democrats that the law changes solved all of the state’s charter-school oversight concerns, however.

ECOT controversy

The recent brouhaha over the attendance records of the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, commonly known as ECOT, has further opened the can of worms that is Ohio’s electronic schools.

You’ll hear more about this issue in the coming weeks and months, particularly after lawmakers return to Columbus after the November general election and into the new General Assembly in 2017.

Republican state Auditor Dave Yost last week urged the Legislature to move more charter-related law changes, with a focus on how so-called e-schools are funded.

Higher standards for those schools are necessary, he said, to ensure participating students are receiving proper instruction. He’s suggested basing funding on course completion, with allowances for different students’ abilities.

“It’s time to resolve the weaknesses, by first working out what it means to achieve that result of an educated citizen,” Yost said in a released statement. “I’m calling on the General Assembly to take this matter up when they return this fall, and to take action. They made many of the necessary reforms in House Bill 2, and I stand ready to help finish the job.”

Republican Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, praised Yost’s suggestions.

He offered in a released statement, “We expect our schools to successfully educate kids, and that’s what they should be paid to do. We’ve learned that basing our higher education funding formula on performance and course completion has resulted in improvements to both. The same philosophy should be applied to primary and secondary education as well. I look forward to continuing this discussion not only with the auditor but also with my legislative colleagues in the days ahead.”

Democrats balk

Democrats, meanwhile, offered some criticism of Yost, noting campaign contributions from folks involved in charters and saying the auditor should have done more to address the problems already.

“It’s all too little, too late from Dave Yost on charter school accountability,” Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said in a released statement. “It’s time to stop all funding for the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow until there is a full audit and all questions can be answered. Our kids – and the taxpayers of this state – deserve nothing less.”

What’s all of that mean?

Potentially heated debate among lawmakers on charter- school reform, for one.

And more criticism of Yost heading into the 2018 election, as he transitions to a different statewide office.

Marc Kovac is The Vindicator’s Statehouse correspondent. Email him at or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.