Online school sues Ohio board after vote on $60M repayment

By KANTELE FRANKO Markets Associated Press

One of the nation's largest online charter schools is suing Ohio's State Board of Education over how the board handled a vote to have the school repay $60 million in funding.

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The $60 million was disputed because of a lack of documentation to justify the funding.

The complaint filed Tuesday in Franklin County by the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow alleges board members violated state public-meetings law by voting without first hearing public comment or substantive deliberation on the matter at Monday's meeting. ECOT contends that those circumstances and the removal of a slated non-public session from the agenda indicate the board improperly discussed or made a decision in advance, and its lawsuit is seeking to block enforcement of the board's decision as invalid.

It's part of a larger dispute over how attendance is tracked to determine funding and ECOT's argument that the Ohio Department of Education improperly changed those practices.

"ODE leadership got what it has wanted all along, a rubber stamp of its unlawful attempt to change its funding standard for ECOT in the middle of a school year," ECOT spokesman Neil Clark said in a statement.

A hearing officer considered the repayment matter and made a recommendation before the board's vote. The department indicated that the board wasn't required to have another hearing and said public comment to the board on the matter before the vote was prohibited under its policies.

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The department concluded the e-school didn't have documentation of student log-ins to justify more than half of the nearly $109 million it got for the 2015-16 school year and should return that portion.

A department spokeswoman didn't immediately respond Wednesday to a message seeking comment on the new lawsuit.

The board did allow ECOT supporters to speak after the vote, and members listened as ECOT representatives, parents of its attendees and a 14-year-old student touted the school's benefits and pleaded for reconsideration.

ECOT contends it wasn't given a fair chance to present further relevant information to the board. School officials say the repayment demand could be crippling for the cyber school, which serves 15,000 students.

ECOT, which hasn't repaid the $60 million, has a related case pending in a state appeals court. Clark has said he expects the dispute will end up at the Ohio Supreme Court.

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