John Kasich’s “School Choice”Over 12,000 ECOT STUDENTS About To Have No School

By John Corrigan

 

(COLUMBUS) As has been widely reported, The Educational Service Center of Lake Erie West (ESCLEW) has sent Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) a notice that it will be suspended unless it can provide an appropriate and accepted plan via appeal.  This means Ohio’s largest charter school could shutter operations as early as next week.

Why?  Because the Ohio Department of Education’s (ODE) crushing revenue clawback due to its retroactive change in the basis for funding for eSchools ensured closure for certain online schools.  The end result of this conspiracy could only be to swiftly close the school—ironically, ensuring that the funds go unrecovered.  If recovery of funds on behalf of districts was the goal (as opposed to closure), ODE would have set a sustainable payback plan for ECOT rather than take back almost 60% of the school’s ongoing funding, making operations impossible and killing the first choice for a public education for 12,000 students

The Kasich Administration’s hand-selected influence over ODE has all but destroyed online education in Ohio. Dozens of district sponsored online schools have been closed. Several independent true charter schools have been forced out of business.  If you want to send your child to an online school, for whatever reason that you have, good luck.

ECOT’s students, by and large, chose online learning because there was something about traditional education that did not work for them. Online schools attract children who have not had positive experiences in the traditional schools. From bullying, to the work habits of the family, to pregnant young women, to students who just happen to prefer the online environment, ECOT and other online schools have offered an alternative to problematic district schools that tens of thousands of Ohio families have found attractive.

Now, ECOT parents and students have three options. First, attempt to enroll in another online school.  That will prove to be difficult as the General Assembly placed caps on how many students can attend an online school in Ohio, and those schools have only so much capacity to accept an influx of students.

The second option is to return to the traditional schools that the students had left in the first place.  “Hey, remember that school you hated?  They have to take you back!”  In addition to having a limited desire, this also presents capacity problems, to handle the influx of these students all at once.  It is tough to quickly expand classroom space.

Lastly, the students could simply give up and choose not to continue their education, disillusioned that their school was targeted and shut down, and they never had a say in it.  

Below is a geographic list of ECOT students for the larger school districts where the students reside, as reported by ODE in January:

Columbus             1,215

Cleveland            817

Cincinnati            337

Dayton                  479

Akron                    211

Hamilton              143

Lorain                    141

Parma                   122

South Western       311

Toledo                   209

Warren                  115

Groveport               123

Elyria                     120

 

If all these students return to their home districts, there will undoubtedly be significant capacity problems, particularly for Columbus and Cleveland. It is also worth noting that the State’s share of school funding for online schools is $6,000 annually, and now taxpayers will be paying more, and sometimes as much as three times more, in the case of Cleveland, to educate these same students.

Also, keep in mind that all of these school districts are paid by the state based on enrollment, so none of these students will have their every move tracked as ODE required under its non-rule standard of accumulating log in’s and log out’s.  In fact, the brick and mortar districts get paid whether or not the student attends school or not.

There are issues why other eSchools may be reluctant to take ECOT students.  The largest of these schools reportedly screen students that are behind, so the population does not drag down its report card scores. ECOT’s roster is full of such students.  In practice, a number of ECOT students are referred by other online schools that don’t like taking students that arrive with educational deficits.

Who is ultimately responsible for this fiasco?  Between Presidential campaigns and book signing tours, has Governor Kasich thought through the impact of his decisions on these victimized eSchool families?  John Kasich has positioned himself and campaigned as a champion of parent and student school choice. The real John Kasich, not the “Prince of Light and Hope” (seriously), has become two-faced on the issue by facilitating the Department of Education’s manipulation of funding and closing what HAD been the nation’s largest eSchool. So much for parental and student choice. The days of the Governor sitting around munching on popcorn and watching “Waiting for Superman” with a bunch of inner-city school kids is long gone, but it was a nice visual.

Hey kids trapped in schools you don’t think are educating you, “Superman” will not be coming to the rescue, and you can thank the “Prince” for that.

How is Kasich responsible?

Governor Kasich appointed a number of state board of education members which go on to appoint the State Superintendent to assure his policy decisions are carried out.

Thanks to depositions in the ECOT v. ODE case pending before the Ohio Supreme Court that ECOT posted on its website, we know that a meeting was held where Wayne Struble, the Governor’s trusted policy advisor and other top level staff from the Governor’s office, gave permission for ODE to launch their attack on ECOT through unilaterally changing their method of funding eSchools.  In the end, this is a coordinated conspiracy orchestrated by either Kasich or his Administration, and either with his blessing or indifference to the plight of the online school kids.

To recap, consider:

  • Kasich’s Department of Education’s brutal action to change its funding basis retroactively produced liability for ECOT where it never really existed.  If this was about “accountability,” then, ODE could have forced ECOT to track student participation in the following school year like the other large eSchools when they had the technology to do so, or could have gone through the standard rule making process to do so.  But instead it chose to implement an attendance-based funding standard unilaterally.

-The fact that the school was able to substantiate 85% of its funding when given prior notice makes this obvious that this was always a planned attack to close the school.  Other large eSchools never had to face retroactive enforcement of this rule, because they weren’t “chosen to be audited” by the faceless bureaucrats at ODE.

-This huge “alternative policy fact” liability, was magnified by the unrealistic repayment schedule imposed by ODE, which ensured the school would not have sufficient revenue to survive.

  • Is Governor Kasich responsible for these actions?  

- “We are the masters of our own fate” stated British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The buck stops on the Governor’s desk, and certainly the people who authorized the attack work for the Governor, who has not uttered a word on the topic in two years. Either he has been asleep at the wheel and didn’t orchestrate this and it was all done behind his back, or he can step in and correct the problems with ODE.

  • Can Anything Be Done To Avert this Education Crisis?

-It is within the Governor’s power to reduce “clawback” levels to allow for sustainable funding levels which will avoid this massive mid-year upheaval to ECOT’s families and the state education system.  

-Prompt action would be needed to bring a positive solution to this situation.

Superman can be on his way, just a phone booth away from averting the greatest educational tumult of the decade.  Will he remain mild mannered Clark Kent, and be content to watch the demise, or will The Governor do something to solve the problem? The time-bomb is ticking. Politicians can only hide for so long.  No one wants to take blame for this utter catastrophe, but only one person can prevent it.  

What will be Governor Kasich’s school choice?