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ECOT Holds Rally At Statehouse

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Ohio Public Radio
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The fight between the state and the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow brought supporters of the state's largest online charter school operator to the Statehouse on Tuesday. The crowd of hundreds of students, parents and teachers also included a well-known but rarely seen figure. Ohio Public Radio's Karen Kasler explains.

Hannah Sims of Wapakoneta is about to turn 10 years old, has ADHD, and is an enthusiastic ECOT student. “ECOT helps me understand my homework a lot better, because in a building school I could not – I could not. I would get Fs every single day,” Hannah said.

As Hannah prepared to lead the crowd at the rally in the pledge of allegiance, her mother Denise talked tearfully about her decision to show support for ECOT. “It’s not about the money, it’s about our kids. And it’s about every family has their own unique reason why they choose ECOT, and my story may be completely different from someone else. But we all matter. These children matter, and getting their education is what’s important. Not the money.”

Thousands of families choose ECOT – if it were a school district, it would be the state’s ninth largest one. But its actual enrollment numbers have been contested by its critics, who also note its poor graduation rate, and by the Ohio Department of Education, which wants ECOT to track students by their logins. A judge ruled ECOT needs to return $60 million in state funding after an ODE audit showed ECOT had only about 40% of the student enrollment it claimed. ECOT has pushed back, saying that ODE has overstepped its authority by changing the way it has interpreted state law. And school officials have both said there’s more to education than time online, and that thousands of students are enrolled in online programs that have servers that aren’t equipped to measure online time. ECOT board president Andrew Brush told the crowd that the school is unfairly under attack to protect what he calls the traditional educational industrial complex. “Quality education has never been about time anyway. If you want proof, just look at some of the graduates of chronically failing traditional schools. They may have had the seat time in school, but some of them can barely read,” Brush said. “Quality education is measured in competence and mastery, not hours and minutes.”

ECOT has a graduation rate under 40%, and claims to graduate more students than any other school in Ohio – but the Columbus City Schools and Public Schools have more graduates. And while ECOT does have a large number of graduates each year, federal data shows more students drop out of ECOT than any other school in the country.

ECOT has been lobbying hard for itself, through taxpayer-funded ads featuring students. But one person not often heard from is ECOT’s founder Bill Lager. Lager, who’s donated millions to mostly Republican lawmakers and candidates, rarely makes public appearances, but at this rally he spoke out. Lager said every family in Ohio knows a child who wants an education outside of a traditional public school. ”That’s what ECOT is. That’s what ECOT always will be,” said Lager.

Lager was emotional as he described creating the school to help kids who are chronically ill or have trouble learning. And he blasted the state when saying ECOT fits in with the predictions from his favorite book, Alvin Toffler’s “Future Shock”. “And yet here we are, seventeen years later from 2000, trying to explain to the traditional 1850s school board that that’s the way our kids want it,” Lager said.

Buses had been provided to take students from ECOT’s Columbus offices to the Statehouse here were reports that teachers were required to attend the rally, but several teachers at the event denied that and the school said attendance was voluntary.

 

The Statehouse News Bureau was founded in 1980 to provide educational, comprehensive coverage of legislation, elections, issues and other activities surrounding the Statehouse to Ohio's public radio and television stations. To this day, the Bureau remains the only broadcast outlet dedicated to in-depth coverage of state government news and topics of statewide interest. The Bureau is funded througheTech Ohio, and is managed by ideastream. The reporters at the Bureau follow the concerns of the citizens and voters of Ohio, as well as the actions of the Governor, the Ohio General Assembly, the Ohio Supreme Court, and other elected officials. We strive to cover statehouse news, government issues, Ohio politics, and concerns of business, culture and the arts with balance and fairness, and work to present diverse voices and points of view from the Statehouse and throughout Ohio. The three award-winning journalists at the bureau have more than 60 combined years of radio and television experience. They can be heard on National Public Radio and are regular contributors to Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Marketplace. Every weekday, the Statehouse News Bureau produces in-depth news reports forOhio's public radio stations. Those stories are also available on this website, either on the front page or in our archives. Weekly, the Statehouse News Bureau produces a television show from our studios in the Statehouse. The State of Ohio is an unique blend of news, interviews, talk and analysis, and is broadcast on Ohio's public television stations. The Statehouse News Bureau also produces special programming throughout the year, including the Governor's annual State of the State address to the Ohio General Assembly and a five-part year-end review.
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