ECOT Students, Families & Staff v. ODE
Who Will Reign Supreme?
By Cyndy Rees
The much anticipated Supreme Court hearing in the matter of ECOT, et al v. ODE, and the court's resulting decision, will dictate not just the future of the online charter school, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) but, in many respects, will determine which branch of government has the right to establish school funding policy: the legislature or an administrative agency. It will also most likely determine the future of eschool’s in Ohio.
The specific issue before the Supreme Court is whether the community school funding statute provides for the funding of eschools, like all other schools in Ohio, based on enrollment, or whether the Ohio Department of Education has the statutory authority to impose an eschool-specific funding standard that is based on the duration of time a student purportedly participates in learning opportunities. ECOT's position is that the Community School Funding Statute, R.C. 3314.08, makes clear that enrollment is the basis for all community school funding, including eschools. No statutory authority exists for ODE to impose an eschool-specific durational standard.
ECOT has argued, and the funding statute itself reflects in numerous instances, that enrollment is the focus of the pertinent funding analysis:
- R.C. 3314.08(C) reflects that community schools are to receive enrollment-based funds proportionally deducted from traditional school districts.
- The Ohio Supreme Court has recognized that under this system, the money follows the child to his or her school of enrollment.
- ODE's statutory authority to reduce or adjust a community school's (including eschools) funding is based on enrollment of a student for less than a full year.
- The "full-time equivalency" formula ODE is required to use in funding community schools, including eschools, is based on the days or hours of learning opportunities “offered by the community school” to a particular student.
- The Ohio Department of Education’s authority to conduct an FTE review of an eschool is limited to "enrollment."
Before 2016, and even though the statutory language has been substantially the same since 2005, ODE reviewed and funded eschools based on enrollment. ODE also repeatedly told the Auditor of State's office that enrollment is the proper standard.
The litigation arose because, in 2016, ODE unilaterally decided to change the eschool funding methodology, retroactive to the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year, to a duration-based approach.
In doing this, ODE's actions raised a number of questions. Did ODE violate the constitutional separation of powers doctrine, which states that the power to establish public policy, including the methodology for school funding, is reserved to the legislature? In this case, has the legislature already established an enrollment-based policy, which ODE has unilaterally refused to follow?
There is also the question of what happens to the money that ODE claws back from eschools based on its new durational methodology. ODE has been actively clawing back funding and refusing to fund ECOT based on the durational methodology even for students who are unquestionably enrolled in the eschool. If ODE claws back such funds and provides them to the traditional district in which the student would have been enrolled, then ODE is providing unearned funding to the district for unenrolled students not educated by that district.
If ODE simply keeps the money, then enrolled students are not being fully funded as mandated by the legislature. In either event, that is a far cry from the money following the child.
Those interested in opening arguments can watch them on The Ohio Channel at 9am this morning.