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Mount Vernon, Knox County, Ohio

COLUMBUS – Following a plea from Auditor of State Dave Yost to place a portion of the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow’s (ECOT) funding in escrow, the Ohio Department of Education yesterday reduced by $12.4 million the amount of student funding it will send to the virtual school.

In response to Yost’s July 20 letter, Superintendent Paolo DeMaria said ECOT’s funding will be reduced by 12 percent beginning with its August payment, scheduled for Aug. 13. Yost asked DeMaria to withhold “a significant portion” of ECOT’s funding after the school submitted a funding request for almost the same number of students for the 2017-18 school year as it did last year – despite telling the Ohio Supreme Court on July 6 that it had suffered “unprecedented enrollment losses.”

“This decision by Superintendent DeMaria and the Department is an excellent response to what appears to be an inflated request for student funding,” Auditor Yost said. “It’s clear the Superintendent shares my concern that any overfunding might be lost if ECOT closes – a prospect that was raised when ECOT’s executives said the school was in a ‘death spiral.’ I applaud this move to protect tax dollars.”

ECOT was being funded at the rate of $103.6 million for claimed enrollment of 14,200 for the 2017-18 school year. A 12 percent reduction in funding totals about $12.4 million. The Ohio Department of Education determined ECOT could document funding for 6,800 of the 15,000 students it claimed for the 2015 school year. ECOT’s full-time equivalency (FTE) review for the 2016 school year has not been released.

ODE has begun clawing back about $60 million in funding that ECOT was paid for students who could not be substantiated based on available participation records. Auditor Yost’s July 20 letter to DeMaria expressed concern that the state was overpaying ECOT for the upcoming school year, effectively loaning the school money that was being paid back to the Department of Education.

“While I recognize your standard practice is to fund charter schools in advance of the school year commencing, facts unique to ECOT’s situation warrant a different approach at this time,” Yost wrote in his letter to DeMaria. “It defies logic that there would not have been some out-migration from ECOT to traditional schools or other charters.”

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