Columbiana schools lost $1.3M to ECOT

LISBON — Since 2012, Columbiana County’s public schools lost $1.3 million in state funding to a much-criticized and now-closed online charter school, according to an updated report from Innovation Ohio, a liberal policy organization.

State funding for schools is allocated on a per pupil basis, but students are free under Ohio’s open enrollment law to attend any district, including online schools, with the state funding transferring with them.

In a report issued this week, Innovation Ohio stated this resulted in the transfer of $591 million in state funds to the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow over the past six years. All but six of Ohio’s 613 school districts lost students to ECOT, the state’s largest online school at one time.

According to Innovation Ohio, the East Liverpool school district lost the most state aid to ECOT at $213,237, between 2012 and the end of 2017. Next was Lisbon at $196,315, followed by Salem ($186,141) Beaver Local ($176,318), Leetonia ($123,478), Crestview ($104,146), Southern Local ($97,913), United Local ($83,169), Wellsville ($63,079), East Palestine ($52,931), and Columbiana ($3,894).

The figures only represent this particular online school. Local districts have lost students to other online schools.

Innovation Ohio has been tracking the amount of state funding that has gone to ECOT. “We are trying to figure out the scope and scale of this thing, and today we are releasing how much has been lost to ECOT in the past six years,” said Stephen Dyer, the group’s Education Policy Fellow.

ECOT had claimed enrollment of more than 15,000 students as recently as 2016, but the state eventually challenged those numbers and now believes the actual figure was closer to 6,000. The state then sought reimbursement for $60 million it paid the school in 2015-16 based on the higher enrollment figures. After losing a series of court challenges, ECOT closed in January.

Giambroni is a reporter for the Lisbon Morning Journal.