All schools must be held accountable

There should be no such thing as “too big to fail” when it comes to educating our children. Yet that seems to be the only argument left to the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow in Ohio.

ECOT officials say that without some financial relief, they will have to shut down within days, perhaps even today. But the relief they want is from the state of Ohio — and it simply cannot be provided.

During the wild West days of charter schools in the Buckeye State, when it was easy to collect taxpayers’ money for running a private school even if the operator could not prove he was getting results, ECOT built up quite a following for its exclusively online classes. By the thousands, Ohio students left traditional classrooms in public schools and began relying on ECOT.

But for many years, ECOT officials have not been able to prove their students were spending the state-required amount of time logged in to their online “classrooms.” In some cases, ECOT was claiming state funds for students who were not enrolled at all.

That first was brought to the public’s attention in many years ago, according to a published report. For too long, little was done about the problem.

Finally, in 2016, state Department of Education officials began demanding accountability from ECOT. After examining the school’s records, the DOE concluded ECOT was claiming payments for 15,322 full-time students — but could only verify 6,313 of them.

So the state sued ECOT, demanding that millions of dollars in state subsidies be returned. Now, the DOE is withholding $2.5 million a month from its payments to the school, in an effort to recoup some of the taxpayers’ money paid wrongly during the 2015-16 school year.

ECOT’s owner had the gall to file what amounted to a countersuit. In it, he made the incredible claim that the state had no right to be checking ECOT’s records on student log-ins to the system.

Of course it does, the same as state officials have a responsibility to check public school enrollments and make support payments based on actual students, not just those being claimed.

It has reached the point that ECOT officials say their finances may force them to close. That would leave as many as 12,000 students without education providers.

That could be quite a challenge to public schools and private institutions that, unlike ECOT, try to play by the rules.

Too bad. ECOT should have been shut down long ago. The only thing state officials have to answer for is why it took them so long to crack down.