Court won't halt funding reductions for online school

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Ohio Supreme Court said on Wednesday it will not temporarily halt the state's efforts to recoup $60 million from one of the nation's largest online charter schools, which says it could soon be forced to close in the middle of the school year.

The state reduced monthly payments to the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow to start recouping money while ECOT challenges how the Ohio Department of Education tallied student logins to determine the school was overpaid.

ECOT has said it will run out of cash and close in early 2018 if the court doesn't intervene, noting that it doesn't have the "safety net" of local tax dollars that traditional public schools receive. The school said such a closure would affect almost 12,000 students and eliminate over 800 jobs.

The school's request to expedite hearing the case or block the state from recouping funding in the meantime was denied by the court Wednesday without written explanation.

The state contends the virtual school didn't sufficiently document student participation to justify its full funding. Ohio officials are seeking to get back $60 million from the 2015-16 school year and have said the e-school could owe nearly $20 million more from 2016-17, a finding that is under appeal.

But the school has argued that the state wrongly changed reporting criteria for recent years — an argument that was unsuccessful in lower courts. Several smaller e-schools have filed briefs in support of ECOT, which has said its case could have broader impact on Ohio's online charter industry.

ECOT spokesman Neil Clark said the school and its students have been "unfairly targeted by ODE" and are awaiting their day at the Supreme Court.

"Once the court has an opportunity to consider the actual merits of the parties' arguments, the justices will readily conclude ODE is unlawfully clawing back funds," he said in an email Wednesday.

A message seeking comment was left for an attorney representing the Ohio Department of Education.


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