By Alisha Kirby
(Ohio) Charter schools that inflate enrollment figures will have to return the funds to the districts the students were pulled from under an Ohio House Republican bill that moved to the state Senate Monday.
Under existing law, the Auditor of State is responsible for determining if public money distributed to brick-and-mortar and online charter schools has been misused. Currently, the Ohio Department of Education collects the overpayments discovered in state audits.
HB 87, sponsored by Rep. Kristina Roegner, R-Hudson, would direct that money back to the student’s local public school district, instead of the state.
The bill is a direct response to the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow–previously the state’s largest online school and a top Republican donor–which closed in the middle of this school year after unsuccessfully suing to conceal student records and then fighting the state’s demand to be repaid $59 million for students who never received an education through the school.
In addition to that $59 million, the State Auditor’s office has cited more than $29 million in tax dollars misappropriated by other charter schools since 2001. In 2014, state audits showed that charter schools–which enroll less than 7 percent of Ohio’s 1.6 million public students–accounted for 70 percent of all misspent state funding.
In 2015, State Auditor Dave Yost sent investigators unannounced to conduct head counts at brick-and-mortar charter schools across the state and found that half of the students enrolled couldn’t be accounted for. The count did not include harder-to-track online schools like ECOT.
Last year, Yost announced that his office had discovered ECOT’s $59 million in student funds that couldn’t be tied to actual learning time. In conducting its financial audit of the online school, state auditors found ECOT was unable capture the amount of time a student is actively logged into the system during the 2015-16 school year. Such information is required by the state to show precisely how much time each student spent learning.
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