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State Officials Discuss E-School Funding Reform

photo of Dave Yost

Charter school advocates and education leaders are sounding off on a big proposal from a charter school supporter to change the way e-schools are funded. Auditor Dave Yost is calling on lawmakers to base dollar amounts to student achievement.

Ohio has seen some reforms to the charter school system - some have been largely welcomed by the industry while others have been strongly opposed.

Auditor Dave Yost has ushered in a new proposal that could be the next focal point on charter school for the next year or two: e-school funding. He says funding should be based on performance and proof that a student is actually learning, which he says can be tracked on the computers those students use in real time.

The current method measures the amount of time a student receives instruction, a system Yost calls outdated.

“This idea of paying for time in class what we're getting is no better than time in class in a lot of situations and so the idea is pay on the basis, measure the payment on the basis of what you're trying to buy an educated, numerate, literate citizen," Yost said.

Republican Sen. Peggy Lehner of Kettering, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, was warm to the idea but said there are many questions that need to be answered in order to move forward.

For example, how do you pay for school positions that aren’t directly tied to student performance, such as counselors?

“So things like that cause the cost of a school is not simply the cost of a particular class or a particular teacher, there are other costs associated. So that all has to be worked into the formula,” Lehner said.

Raising the bar
Chad Aldis with the pro-charter Fordham Institute has been a vocal advocate for standards that raise the bar on charter schools to help them perform at a higher level. He says there’s been a lot of talk lately about the weaknesses of online charter schools when he counters that e-schools have a lot of strengths. And he says being able to track performance through online quizzes and courses is one of them.

“The key is, whether it’s through course completion or whether it’s through completing individual components of courses, like think of math chapters or sections – funding on little increments so we can make sure that students are making progress,” he said.

The court battle
The issue of e-school funding has been dominating charter school discussions this summer. TheOhio Department of Education is locked in a court battle with the state’s largest online charter school, ECOT, over its attendance and enrollment records.

ODE’s audit of how much instruction ECOT students are receiving can have a big impact on the more than $100 million it receives each year.

ODE has wanted ECOT to turn over log-in information, to determine how long students are learning online. ECOT has said educational opportunities aren’t just offered online. ECOT consultant Neil Clark says the proposal from Yost could help change a dispute like this in the future, but he’s not holding his breath.

“Theoretically, theoretically all these things sound great when you’re in Candyland when you have to come to “Realityland” you have to start thinking about how these things will be applied fairly and uniformly,” Clark said.

Clark says it’s important to make sure e-schools are treated like traditional brick and mortar schools.

Yost wouldn’t comment on the ODE-ECOT court fight but did add some correlation between his recommendations and the battle.

“That litigation really does demonstrate the flaws in Ohio's system. How do you count noses when your classroom is everywhere and nowhere when it's anytime and all the time. You could be online 2 o'clock in the morning or 2 o'clock in the afternoon and when you're reading a book you're not online but you might still be learning,” Yost said.

Reform on the ballot
Yost is hoping the e-school funding reform can be passed when lawmakers return from the summer break after the November election.

Andy Chow is a general assignment state government reporter who focuses on environmental, energy, agriculture, and education-related issues. He started his journalism career as an associate producer with ABC 6/FOX 28 in Columbus before becoming a producer with WBNS 10TV.