A Perspective: ECOT State School Board Findings
By Cyndy Rees
On Monday, the State Board of Education took the historic and unprecedented step of clawing back over $60 million from the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT). The Board voted in agreement with the recommendation from a report issued by the ODE appointed Hearing Officer. The lone dissenting vote came from a Board Member who wanted to extract more money from ECOT.
It is important to note that the Hearing Officer, who works for ODE, refused to accept testimony from ECOT experts. Also, ECOT had no audit “findings" in their last 13 state audits that included attendance reporting, by the Auditor of State.
At issue is a Handbook published by ODE in late January 2016 that laid out new durational requirements to measure attendance for e-schools.
The ODE Handbook, unlike most funding that is approved by the Legislature, did not go through the Ohio Revised Code’s (ORC) 119 Rule Making process that stipulates that a rule must be a business friendly rule as determined by the Governor’s Office of the Common Sense Initiative (CSI) and considered and publicly voted upon by the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR). JCARR’s website defines the rule process as, “Rules written under O.R.C. 119.03 require the agency to have a public hearing within 31 to 40 days after filing the rules with JCARR. At the public hearing the agency takes oral and written comments about the rule.”
However, The Ohio Revised Code 3314.08(H)(3) states that FTE calculations are based on “offered learning opportunities.”
Ohio law clearly states that e-school’s funding must be based on the length of time that a student is enrolled in school and not based on specific log-in and log-out time duration.
Anti- charter school advocates, teachers unions, and sympathizers have found much success in selling their version of the story to the media. In fact, the main stream media is a major political player in this issue as their one sided reporting has influenced the process.
But there is always another side to a story and 3rd Rail Politics has taken a closer look to investigate and report on the facts.
The State Board made their determination without asking a single question, without discussion, and without testimony from ECOT experts, students, or family members. There was no discussion of the Hearing Officers report.
The Board Members behavior was out of character from the first five hours of the meeting where a roll call was performed seeking comment on the issues under discussion. A solid 30 minutes of debate and interaction took place wordsmithing a new education policy. But for an unprecedented historic vote on a policy that is currently under consideration by the courts - crickets.
This is a dispute over a policy, yet the State Board has already voted on a determination before the dispute is settled by the Court. Several years ago, The Columbus Public Schools actually was proven to have lied to the state, inflating enrollment data, and actually stole $90 million from the taxpayers of Ohio. Not a single red cent was ever recovered. ODE just said, “Please, don’t do it again.”
3rd Rail Politics interviewed some of these individuals who spent five hours waiting to testify prior to the vote. While they were given the opportunity to speak after the vote not ONE state school board member asked any questions regarding their testimony with the exception of Representative Andrew Brenner (R-Powell), one of the Board’s non-voting Members. We encourage you to listen to their voices as they will shine a new light on the issue.
Robert Sommers PhD. is the former Director of the Office of 21st Century Education under Governor John Kasich. He worked for the Ohio Department of Education for 15 years and was one of four finalists for the position of Superintendent of Public Instruction for Ohio. In this brief video Dr. Sommers offers significant and unreported insight into the unprecedented use of retroactive rule implementation by ODE, and why the 5-hour rule is not an appropriate measurement for attendance:
ECOT Teacher William Schroedl explains how ODE is only looking at one piece of data to measure attendance while there are multiple components to how ECOT students learn:
ECOT Teacher Megan Anderson provides vast background information on the school and its students:
Jacob Oglesbee graduated from ECOT earlier this month with honors. He explains how the negative press and actions by ODE have hurt his ability to secure scholarships:
Celiah Aker, a current student at ECOT explains why some students need this unique education opportunity to learn in a safe environment:
We have also provided the written testimonies of those who came to defend the school for your review:
Testimony from Rick Schroedl ECOT eduatior.
Testimony from Leah Aker - mother of ECOT student
Testimony from Carrie Benton former ECOT parent
Good morning my name is Carrie Benton I am a former electronic classroom of tomorrow parent and A current tax payer.
I am here to address the board on the resolution to except the hearing officers decision on the electronic classroom of tomorrow, also known as ECOT.
For The last several hours I have treated multiple victims under the age of 18 reviving them by administration of narcan only to learn literature was distributed at their local public high school for a program providing clean needles and cookers for heroin addicts. the curiosity sparked by this literature almost ended their lives. Ladies and gentlemen we are failing are youth within our schools and society. Situations like this make me question why we are here when we obviously have larger issues to address.
With that being said I have no horse in this race, as my children have successfully graduated.
So why am I really here?
Before I answer that and challenge you to do the same, I have an email to share.
"I just wanted to take a minute to say thank you to all the ECOT staff that volunteered for Prom. Everyone looked like they had a great time. I know I sure did. May 6, 2017 will be a memory I will carry with me for the rest of my life. For so long, my days have been consumed with doctors, treatments, and never knowing how I was going to feel the next day. June 16, 2017 will be three years since my surgery, and two years’ remission. Since then, it has been very hard to not let that define me, as the side effects have sometimes been worse than the original treatment itself. I made a promise to myself that no matter what, I would graduate with my class, but I never thought about prom. To my parents, my senior prom was important. In the weeks leading up to prom, I began to understand why.
Healthcare is expensive. My mom is a C-NP, and my dad is an agricultural technician. I have always been active in school, sports, and in 4H, Student Council, softball, flag corps, band, horse shows, been there done that. My parents never missed an activity. So, when I started getting sick, it was no surprise my mom took off time to be right there/ Then, she accepted a position that was lower paying, but gave her the flexibility to be at every doctor’s appointment. Financially, it was a different way of life, and we cut corners and budgeted every way we could, never going without needs, and redefining wants. To me, I was happy to just be graduating, prom was a want, an expense that wasn't necessary. My parents viewed it differently. They were insistent. Through ECOT, we found Cinderella's closet. We made the drive, and there, I found a dress that was altered to fit me on the spot. My mom cried. In the past three years, I haven't seen her cry. Still not understanding, we came home and put the dress away. Tickets were purchased, and I was ready. Then, on Easter weekend, my Dad, the strongest person I know, became very ill. Once again, my mom took off work to care for him. I decided to stay home from prom to help the two people that have helped me so very much. They both refused. My dad promised, no matter what, he would be there for prom, and for graduation. With so much unknown, he couldn't promise beyond that, but he wanted me to go.
The day of prom came. I put on my dress, and my parents drove me, knowing no one. It was the best! From the time, I walked in the door, I wasn't 'the girl who is sick’ or ‘the girl that is never at school.' I didn't feel under a microscope like there were people that wanted to ask me things but didn't. I was just me, another ECOT student, a senior from up by Lake Erie, who has goals and dreams just like everyone else in that room. When we were asked to look at our rose and find the crown, I cannot describe the emotion I had when I realized I had the crown. It became full circle. Every trial, every set back, every meeting, every day of weakness was justified. It all meant something finally. The staff of ECOT selflessly put together that event, not knowing the importance it would have to everyone, especially me.
I know there is a rally tomorrow to save our school. I have learned to not try and question the why, or become consumed with things you have no control over, but this, I cannot wrap my head around. My family is trying very hard to be there.
To whoever is going, could you please relay a message? You don't have to tell them that ECOT far surpasses the brick and mortar curriculum. I'm sure they already know that. The average annual cost for a student to attend "brick and mortar" public schools is $800.00-2500.00 depending on if they just go to class, or, if they participate in extracurricular activates whereas ECOT is free for all events, and book fees. I'm sure they know that as well. You don't have to tell them ECOT is making it possible for students to achieve in the classroom. They already know that.
I'm sure they are familiar with a bill being presented to the state called Alianna's Alert. This began after a 14-year-old girl did not make it to a public school, and the parents were not notified for over six hours that the child was absent, yet ECOT tracks my activity, logged hours, classrooms entered, and work completed in real time. So, I'm sure they don't need to be reminded of that.
Instead, tell them that ECOT was founded on a dream of full inclusion and has held true to that dream years later. Tell them ECOT is providing a challenging curriculum that prepares us for the work environment, as well as the college environment. Tell them we are held accountable daily. Tell them, at my lowest moment, when I needed support the most, the local school administration was afraid of the unknown, and I was not provided with a free appropriate public education. Had it not been for ECOT, I would not be graduating with my class. Let them know ECOT has reminded me that we all can succeed. ECOT said, "we can" when the high school I had attended for a long time said, "we don't know how to help." ECOT has proven I am not just another statistic. I am senior, proudly graduating from ECOT.
Finally, tell them that these things listed above, enable us to have the tools to succeed and be contributing members of society. Therefore, yes, their money is well spent, as it is given back to us tenfold. If anything, the state owes ECOT. Without ECOT helping students succeed, their chances of becoming taxpayers and bringing money into the state greatly diminishes.
I'm not sure who to send this to, or if any of it will make a difference. I just felt with so much negativity in society, a thank you would be refreshing. To the staff that goes above and beyond in and out of the classroom for all of us, thank you is not enough, but you are appreciated. You have given me something I can carry with me, and someday, pay it forward."
Proud 2017 Prom Queen
I believe that email reflects the value of ECOT.
That is reason number one why I am here today. That email also lead me to research what are the basis of these heavy allegations from the department of education? I started making phone calls and emails and reviewing data from all sources sources. I wanted to see an unbiased educated case study to support what was being said regardless of who's favor it may be in. Surely, with as old as electronic classroom of tomorrow is, there is data to support the department of educations claims. To date not one case study has been published. To date, there are no definitive numbers. In fact, the data on ODE website contradicts itself. However what I did find was rather disturbing.
The school year 2007 2008 a child by the name JD was on an individualized education plan. Where physical therapy occupational therapy speech therapy and a one on one aide were to be provided. After an unprovoked attack on JD requiring medical intervention. Once stable, the family met with the public school system as it had several times prior. They asked where the aide was during the attack. The aide that our tax dollars pay for.
The child's math teacher looked at the parents and said "it is a waste of time to have him in my class he cannot learn." He was quiet withdrawn not social. JD's parents contacted electronic classroom of tomorrow where he began attending in the 6th grade. JD excelled graduated from ECOT in 2015, and is currently on the Dean's list in college. From 2008 to May 2017 when JD turned 21 the local school district continued to Bill and receive funds for occupational therapy physical therapy speech therapy and a one on one aide. Keep in mind,he has not attended since 2008.
Why was the district not audited with the same standards as ECOT?
Why was this gross fiscal negligence not detected by Ohio department of education?
Why didn't the funding go to electronic classroom of tomorrow the district that actually provided services. Why is Ohio Department of Education not ensuring our children are safe while in their care?
Why do they employ and credential a teacher that deems children not teachable?
Why should I I taxpayer have faith in any number reported by Ohio department of education when there is no Data to back up their claim?
JD is reason number two why I am here. Ohio department of education website clearly states The department tasks include administering the school funding system, collecting school fiscal and performance data, developing academic standards and licensing teachers.
It is time for ODE to go back to basics. Please stop the practice of using our children as political pawns. We, as a state, have failed them enough. Do not teach them to test, teach them life skills. We are all on the same team with the same common goal- Educating our youth today so they can preserve tomorrow.
In conclusion, as a taxpayer with a voice and a vote, I would like to respectfully ask you to delay your vote until the court process has been completed. Please take your time to research every detail as I did. Ask questions and demand answers.
Set an example for the students watching your every move, and let the court process carry out. In doing so, you will show our youth that the judicial process does work. You have the weight of the world on your shoulders while under a microscope that is gaining national attention. Please make sure you will be comfortable with your decision 10 years from now.
I challenge each of you to ask yourselves why are you REALLY here?
On behalf of my family and many more whom are forever grateful for the choice of ECOT, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to speak. JD and Erica, today you have a voice, and rest assured, you will continue to be heard.