Last year, the state began to evaluate charter schools by a variety of factors. One is proper documentation for “enrolled students,” which had led to significant funding questions among many of the online charter schools.
Of these, ECOT is the largest and the most egregious in terms of how many students they are reporting vs. actually serving. Their records – and the number of students for whom they are paid by the state – claim they served 15,300 students during the 2015-16 school year. However, they had proper documentation for only 6,300 of these students – close to 2/3.
They received $109 million last year; based on an average per student, this means they could be forced to return over $60 million to the state.
ECOT is appealing this, stating the 2003 agreement with the state says students must enroll and log on at least once to receive funding. The big question: for an online school, how does logging on once constitute educating a student?
The state is now seeking to determine how many students logged on for more than an hour a day. ECOT, not surprisingly, is calling this a “sham” and saying that if the school’s funding is limited in this way in the future, it could put the school in a “death spiral.”
Interestingly, if ECOT were paid for the 6,300 students they are educating, they would receive over $7,000 per student from the state. In that same year, Milford spent $8,496 per pupil; the state average was $8,840. Yet physical districts such as Milford have many more costs that are included in this number that online schools don’t have – buildings and their operations and transportation being some of the largest. Yet ECOT says they can’t make it on over $7,000 per student?
Looking at the total amount they did spend: if only 6,300 students were served, and the school received $109 million, that is over $17,000 per student that they spent. Where did this money go?
Other charter schools that have been directed to return funds to the state are on hold until the ECOT case is determined. However, many will not receive much of the funding up front that they have received going forward, as the state has labeled 21 “sponsor” organizations (i.e., agencies that create and/or monitor charters) as “poor” and is in the process of taking away their oversight power (note, ECOT is sponsored by the ESC of Lake Erie West, which was rated as Ineffective and received an academic grade of “F”).
I am hopeful that these are first steps in a process that will hold charter schools accountable and ensure taxpayer money is spent in an effective and efficient way. I am not necessarily against the idea of charter schools; but I do feel they must be executed in a way that does not divert funds from successful public schools to ineffective charters, and charters should be held to the same standards as public schools.