Lawmakers consider changing how state funds online schools


COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A legislative committee tasked with figuring out a better way for Ohio to fund online charter schools has started its work and is scheduled to hear more testimony this week.

Sen. Peggy Lehner, the Republican from Kettering who co-chairs the committee considering changes to the enrollment-based e-school funding system, told The Columbus Dispatch making the system more dependent on whether students finish courses could shift the focus toward real learning rather than growing enrollment.

“We’re looking to find a funding system that helps drive the quality of e-school learning,” Lehner said.

The topic has received extra attention since Ohio’s largest virtual school, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, abruptly closed in January amid a dispute over nearly $80 million in public funding. The state concluded ECOT should repay that money because it wasn’t justified by student participation data, and ECOT has unsuccessfully challenged how participation and student log-ins were tallied.

Its closure left thousands of students scrambling for other schooling options and pushed the e-school funding issue into an even brighter spotlight amid discussion at the Legislature and among candidates for statewide offices this year.

Ohio spent about $190 million on 18 e-schools last year. It has 14 now, half of which accept students from anywhere in the state.

The joint legislative committee considering how they should be funded is aiming to figure out proposed changes in time for them to be considered in the state budget that GOP Gov.-elect Mike DeWine is expected to introduce in March.

The organizations slated to present testimony this week include the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. It is among the advocacy groups that have encouraged states to handle funding differently for virtual schools accessed online than for traditional schools where students show up to learn in person.

The committee already heard testimony from state Auditor Dave Yost’s office, which has advocated for a model that includes some up-front funding but also depends partly on students demonstrating competency through testing to prove they’re learning.