ECOT not a political issue

With all the issues over which Democrats and Republicans should be doing battle in Ohio, it is a puzzle why some have chosen to focus on the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow. There is no good reason for any disagreement about ECOT.

ECOT is an entirely online institution which is among charter schools that receive state funding as alternatives to public education. Some Democrats insist the company has received kid-glove treatment from Republicans, in part because of political contributions.

Of course, ECOT’s most dangerous foe in state government has been Auditor Dave Yost, a Republican who is running for attorney general. It was Yost and others in his office who first raised questions about whether ECOT was collecting taxpayer funds to which it was not entitled.

During the 2015-16 school year, ECOT officials claimed they had more than 15,000 online students, for which they should be paid. A closer look, insisted upon by Yost, disclosed that fewer than half that number had logged on to ECOT with enough frequency to be deemed full-time students.

That prompted state officials to demand ECOT pay back about $80 million overpaid to it by the state.

Obviously, the stakes in how ECOT — and, for that matter, other charter schools — is handled are big.

Now, ECOT officials are seeking a change in how they are regulated. They want to be classified as a dropout-recovery school — a category that would allow them to pass state evaluations with a graduation rate as low as 8 percent.

State Department of Education officials have said they may go along with ECOT on that. And the kicker is that the DOE may allow ECOT to self-report some critical information used to determine whether its students qualify it as a dropout-recovery school.

Yes, ECOT — the same company caught claiming higher student participation than actually was the case — may still enjoy some level of trust among DOE officials.

Just as public school systems are held accountable and are required to document scores of aspects of what they do, charter schools should be held to rigid standards. ECOT should be no exception.

There should be nothing political about the discussion. Either ECOT and other schools, public or charter, measure up, or they do not. If they do not, something needs to be done about it.