(TNS) — With ECOT closed and other Ohio e-schools still struggling to verify the enrollment numbers used to pay them, state legislators sent a package of proposals to Gov. John Kasich aimed at clarifying the basis for paying the schools.
Although Democrats saw the legislation as too little and too late, Sen. Lou Terhar, R-Cincinnati, called it a necessary fix to a "broken system" while labeling Ohio's education system "the state's biggest problem currently."
"I beg of you to pass House Bill 87 because it is a start," he said to fellow senators regarding one of the two bills passed to address e-schools. "It's a stopgap."
Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman, criticized Republicans for only now paying attention to e-school issues that have been known to some degree for more than 15 years. He wanted more, such as requiring a face-to-face meeting when a student fails to log in for an extended period.
"Everyone is talking about it now and is acting like they just found out," he said.
Amid questions about whether students were actually participating in online classwork, the Department of Education in 2016 began requiring that e-schools use log-in durations and other data to prove that students were getting the state-minimum 920 hours of learning.
ECOT fell well short of the number of students it had reported to the state, and it was ordered to repay Ohio $80 million, ultimately leading to its closure. Other e-schools have been ordered to repay smaller amounts.
If Kasich signs the bills, the package would handle a few issues immediately, such as reducing the hours of consecutive unexcused inactivity that trigger the required withdrawal of an e-school student.
To handle sticky issues of how to fund e-schools in the future, and whether to require more disclosure from the for-profit operators of online charter schools, Republicans plan to create a study committee. It is to look at whether an academic component should be used for funding purposes, either replacing or adding to log-in times.
"This gives us some time to be thoughtful about how we fund e-schools differently, because they're clearly a different animal," said Ohio House Speaker Ryan Smith, R-Bidwell.
Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, acknowledged that legislators sometimes use study panels to make an issue disappear. If that happened here, she said, it would "be a tragedy."
Legislators also want the state superintendent to suggest clearer terms related to e-schools, including "documentation of online learning," "idle time," and "participation."
Rep. Teresa Fedor, D-Toledo, said she supported a few of the measures, but she also was gaveled down for talking about charter-school campaign contributions to Republicans. She called the package a "quick fix to provide political cover."
The e-school package also would ensure that Ohio Virtual Academy, which accepted 4,200 students transferring from ECOT after that school closed in January, won't see those transfers hurt its academic standing.
For Ohio Virtual Academy and a few other schools whose enrollment increased at least 20 percent because of transfers from ECOT, those students would not count toward their new school's academic performance as it relates to mandatory closure through the 2019-20 school year.
The ECOT transfer students also would not count toward a school's sponsor evaluations for the 2018-19 school year.
"It's important that schools not be held accountable for students who have not been in their system for at least a year," said Rep. Keith Faber, R-Celina.
©2018 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.