COLUMBUS (WCMH) – The state’s largest online charter school could close as soon as next week.
The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), with an enrollment of about 12,000 students, is losing its sponsor. Charter schools cannot operate in Ohio without a sponsor.
The Educational Service Center of Lake Erie West, which sponsors ECOT, says it has initiated proceedings to suspend ECOT’s operations at or near the end of the current semester.
In an email to NBC4, ESC Executive Director Apryl Morin wrote that the sponsor “has monitored the status of the ongoing funding dispute between ECOT and the Ohio Department of Education as well as the resulting impact on ECOT’s finances.”
And because of those continuing financial uncertainties, “the ESC has initiated proceeding to suspend ECOT’s operations at or near the end of the current semester and terminate its sponsorship contract.”
ECOT’s current semester ends January 18.
ECOT’s financial issues date back to 2016 when the state performed and attendance audit. The school couldn’t prove that many of its full-time students were getting the minimum number of learning hours required by the state.
Since state funding is tied to attendance, Ohio asked ECOT to repay more than $60 million in funding.
All of ECOT’s appeals to reverse that decision or stop the state’s efforts to collect the money have been denied.
Many students choose ECOT because, for whatever reason, they are not well-suited for a traditional classroom setting.
Hannah Martindale has been attending ECOT since 2010.
“I flunked second grade because I had seizures and ECOT helped me succeed even with the seizures I was having,” Martindale said.
Martindale says she is now in 10th grade. “I just pray that it doesn’t close.”
Hannah’s grandmother, Melinda Martindale, says ECOT has been a lifesaver.
“I just know that a lot of kids are going to be hurt terribly if they close and I just don’t think that’s fair.”
But State Senator Charleta Tavares says it’s about accountability.
“I think the rules need to be clear,” Tavares said. “They need to be accountable and children need to be online in their seat and learning, not just logging on for a couple of minutes and say – that’s enough.”
ESC says it will work with ECOT and the Ohio Department of Education through the closure process to minimize the negative impact in its 12,000 students and their families.