Absurdity at ODE

By Cyndy Rees


Today the Ohio Supreme Court heard the much-anticipated ECOT case.  Most of the arguments are by now familiar—even absent any statutory change, did the law allow the Ohio Department of Education to switch from funding e-schools based on enrollment to funding based on actual log-in durations? 


ODE lawyer Doug Cole led his presentation with an argument based not on the law, but rather by simply asserting that funding e-schools based on enrollment as opposed to log-in duration leads to “an absurd result.”  In so doing, Cole becomes Exhibit A for why schools should be run by business-minded administrators and teachers—not lawyers and educrats like him and his client, ODE in-house lawyer Diane Lease.


The reason is obvious to anyone with an ounce of business or education background: funding schools based on log-in duration, minute-by-minute attendance, or which kids decide to show up that day and pay attention makes budgeting impossible and would subject virtually every school in Ohio to the death penalty ODE is selectively imposing on the e-schools. 


This is because-- stay with me here ODE, all schools have fixed costs.  They need to pay teachers and staff, maintain buildings, pay utilities, provide supplies like books and computers, hire bureaucrats to comply with all ODE’s worthless regulations, etc. 


As the school year begins, a school can get a pretty tight handle on its expected enrollment figures, calculate its revenues and costs, live within the budget.  What a school cannot do is be paid a nickel for every time a student clicks a mouse, turns a page, or raises her hand in class.  These variables are unknown at the year’s outset and beyond the control of the school.  If a school can’t budget, a school can’t survive.  It’s that simple.  And God help the victims of brain damage who need to prepare the paperwork to track all this stuff to the whims of ODE’s liking.  It is absolutely unworkable in practice and was devised either by a fool or by a bureaucracy out to kill school choice.  You have two guesses!


Here’s an idea for a fun experiment:  let’s take one month of the year and pay Columbus Public Schools based on ODE’s durational learning “rules.”  (No, Chief Justice O’Connor, brick and mortar schools are not paid on attendance.  They round up their kids three different days of a year and this becomes their enrollment.  They are paid on enrollment, and if the kids don’t show up any other day, it’s irrelevant to the district’s funding).


And to make the experiment more lively, let’s choose January of 2016 as that month, and to the extent Columbus schools’ documentation falls short, “claw back” all the money.


Applied statewide, without a doubt this funding system would crash the state’s entire K-12 system of education.  Yet as all parties in court today agreed, this is exactly what ODE did to ECOT.


You might like school choice, or you might not (maybe you work at ODE, for instance).  You might believe online learning has its place, or you might not.  (Maybe you think that students who are bullied, pregnant, or have children of their own should just get on the bus with everyone else or drop out). 


But whatever your politics, you should understand it is absolutely disgusting to hear the Ohio Department of Education argue that funding schools the way virtually every Ohio school is funded, and virtually the only way that allows schools to exist at all, is “absurd.”