Thursday, March 10, 2016

Newfound Concern about eSchool Attendance Not so New

Over the last several days, the Columbus Dispatch has been reporting that the Ohio Department of Education is going to start cracking down on attendance figures at Ohio's eSchools, even the most infamous of all -- The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), which is run by major political donor William Lager.

The reason is that Provost Academy was found to only have 32 full-time students, not the 155 the school reported. Likewise, Lakewood Digital Academy only had 16, not 57 students enrolled full time.

While I'm relieved that ODE is finally double checking these enrollment issues, I'm disheartened that we're acting like this is a new thing. Look at a Special Audit from ECOT's very first year of existence -- 2000. It should look familiar:
"In November of 2000, the Executive Director of ODE’s Office of School Finance, contacted the Auditor of State’s Office regarding the significant student enrollment reported by ECOT on its September 2000 and October 2000 Average Daily Membership (ADM) reports and possible irregularities in how those enrollment amounts were generated. Also in November 2000, representatives of the Auditor of State’s Office met with then ECOT Superintendent, Dr. Coletta Musick, who expressed concerns that numerous students included within ECOT’s enrollment numbers for September and October 2000 did not actually receive services from ECOT during those months."
This information was presented to the Auditor of State’s Special Audit Committee and on November 16, 2000, the Committee voted to initiate a Special Audit of ECOT. It was decided our procedures would be performed for the monthly enrollment reports submitted to ODE for September and October 2000 which were paid by ODE in November and December 2000, respectively"
But that's not all. The audit found that "during September and October 2000, ODE paid ECOT $1,688,836 for students who did not meet this definition" of a full-time student.

In fact, this dubious enrollment accounting is what caused ODE to reject ECOT (the state's first and largest eSchool) when it initially applied to be a charter -- one of the only schools the State Board ever rejected in the charter school program's first years. So ECOT went to the Lucas County Educational Service Center. The Lucas County ESC is now called Educational Service Center of Lake Erie West, which is now the state's largest and oldest sponsor of charters. The ESC of Lake Erie West has been the source of additional recent scrutiny.

So let's stop acting like verifying eSchool enrollment is some novel scandal or something. We've known it was a problem literally since the first month eSchools opened here. Responsible State School Board members raised these same concerns nearly two decades ago before an eSchool ever opened. Yet it did.

Here's my question: Why has it taken so long to finally crack down on this issue? ODE itself raised the question. The State Auditor verified the problem and ECOT was fined.

In 2001!  

For some perspective, Ohio's had four full classes of students go through the K-12 system in that same time.

This is what massive campaign contributions and complicit overseers get you, I suppose. I shudder to think of how much money we've paid these operations (which now collect about $270 million annually -- more than $100 million alone at ECOT) for kids that they never educated.

Can you imagine the potential outrage if some official would look at all the eSchool enrollment since 2000 and see how much we, the taxpayers, paid for kids these schools never saw? I sure wish someone would try.

Suffice it to say, I understand why the quality-based charter school community is trying to throw eSchools overboard, even claiming they're not really charters (even though they are).

This unfolding scandal could reveal enormous amounts of misspent taxpayer dollars -- among the largest ever -- if the results at Provost and Lakewood are repeated at all the state's eSchools.

Let's hope this is an isolated incident.

But I wouldn't bet on it.


  1. Lakewood Digital Academy is run by a district, no?

  2. That it is. One of the few digital academies remaining. I never said districts aren't immune from these kinds of issues. Though certainly there are far more non conversion schools.

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