State will spend $500,000 in online schools legal fight

Gayathri | Thursday, October 20, 2016 1:27 PM IST

State will spend $500,000 in online schools legal fight

A state panel approved $500,000 in attorney fees today to fuel the legal fight between state education officials and the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow.

The Controlling Board vote was unanimous, but Sen. Bill Coley, R-Cincinnati, complained legal fees in the case are a 'colossal waste of funds.'

Coley, who eventually voted for the expenditure, said it appears Ohio Department of Education officials 'have decided they don't need the legislature' and are pursing demands on their own that online charter schools provide student log-in records and not just enrollment figures to qualify for state payments. He argued the department needs legislative approval for that.

'Now it's going to cost us $500,000,' he said.

The money approved today goes to Attorney General Mike DeWine's office to pay special counsel attorneys handling the litigation with ECOT over providing attendance records to justify $106 million in state funding. The state previously spent $121,000 in legal fees.

Sheila Vitale, an attorney with the education department, said, 'It has been the law for many years that e-schools had to documents their students educational opportunities.' She acknowledged, however that the department laid out the requirement specifically in early 2015.

Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Jenifer French ruled late last month there is a 'public interest in ensuring our children are receiving the education that our taxpayers are funding.' French rejected ECOT's preliminary-injunction request that argued the state was violating state law by requiring log-in records.

The Department of Education informed ECOT that a state audit showed the district’s enrollment last year was inflated by 143 percent, possibly resulting in the state demanding that ECOT repay $60 million of $106 million it received.

ECOT officials counter the state is waging a 'vendetta' against online schools by using requirements that are not part of state law.