COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — An appeals court denied a request on Wednesday by Ohio’s largest online charter school that sought to block collection of more than $60 million in disputed state payments.
The unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel of the Franklin County Court of Appeals leaves intact an order by the Ohio Department of Education seeking the money’s return by the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow. The school sought to block the state Board of Education’s vote on the matter, which is scheduled for Monday.
ECOT’s reported enrollment of 15,000 Ohio students makes it one of the largest online charter schools in the U.S.
Democrats jumped on the court’s decision to pile criticism on the school, which has struggled for years against attacks on its enrollment practices and student performance ratings.
“This sham, unaccountable school is a clear waste of taxpayer money and needs to be shut down,” said Democratic gubernatorial candidate Betty Sutton. “The main thing that they seem to do well is shower Republican candidates and committees with political donations instead of educating children. Unfortunately, it is a symptom of a much larger disease facing Ohio’s education system.”
ECOT spokesman Neil Clark said the school didn’t get a fair shake in court. He took particular aim at one of the three deciding judges, Gary Tyack, as being biased against the school, online learning and school choice.
“Today, Judge Tyack confirmed that he would put his agenda before the law,” Clark said in a statement. “He is desperate to destroy ECOT and is unwilling to even wait for the judicial system to play out before advancing his vendetta.”
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor rebuked Tyack after oral arguments were held in the case before the state’s high court. She wrote that his comments against the school, its founder and online education were derogatory, extrajudicial, unnecessary and unacceptable.
The school’s efforts to revisit the issue of Tyack’s impartiality came as it braced for Monday’s important school board vote, which comes amid the long-running legal dispute over what attendance-tracking practices should be used to determine state funding.
A state hearing officer ruled against the school in its appeal of the state Education Department’s determination that the school owes $64 million for enrollment that can’t be justified due to lack of documentation.
ECOT has argued that its initial legal agreement with the state allowing a different way of logging student attendance and learning is still in force.
The hearing officer recommended that the state school board use its power to collect overpayments from the school or deduct the sum it owes from future payments. Freed by Wednesday’s court decision, the board can decide whether to accept, reject or modify those recommendations.