The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow is again turning to the Ohio Supreme Court in its fight against the state, asking the justices to overturn an appellate court ruing that held the State Board of Education acted legally in ordering the online charter school to repay $60 million in state aid.
The school's latest appeal, filed Friday in the high court, asks the justices to overturn a Feb. 27 ruling by the Franklin County Court of Appeals that found the state board did not violate the Open Meetings Act while deliberating what action to take against the now-shuttered online charter school.
A prior appeal by ECOT arguing that the Ohio Department of Education illegally changed the rules on counting online students, leading to the state demand for repayment, remains pending before the Ohio Supreme Court. The school in total was ordered to repay nearly $80 million for unverified enrollment.
The more recent appeal says the State Board of Education met illegally while deciding what action to take while conducting a "quasi-judicial" hearing in which ECOT participated. The appellate court ruling will lead to a "Pandora's Box" of lawsuits over the requirements of the Open Meetings Act, the filing stated.
ECOT, which suspended operations in January after 17 years, has filed multiple legal challenges — all so far unsuccessful — in a bid to block the state from recovering the over-payments.
In June, the state board ordered ECOT to repay the money after investigators used computer log-in durations and offline documentation to verify 6,313 full-time ECOT students. That was about 60 percent fewer students than the 15,322 that ECOT claimed. Ohio pays schools on a per-pupil basis.
ECOT officials have disputed the findings, arguing before the justices that the department illegally changed the rules for counting students and violated a 2003 agreement that the e-school had only to "offer" students 920 hours of learning opportunities.
A special master is overseeing the financial dismantling of ECOT's remaining assets in a separate action in Franklin County Common Pleas Court. ECOT had repaid about $17 million to the state, deducted on a monthly basis, when its sponsor shut it down out of concern that the school would soon run out of money and be unable to pay its debts and employees.