New report: Ohio taxpayers are overpaying for e-Schools

State Impact Ohio —an imprint of NPR — and the Plain Dealer combined forces to produce a very compelling tale about e-Schools this weekend. At the story’s heart was this observation by Robert Mengerink, the head of the Cuyahoga County Educational Service Center.

“When he learned this summer that the agency he heads, the Educational Service Center of Cuyahoga County, could offer a basic online program for less than half of what the state pays online schools per student, he was taken aback.”

The story continues by questioning the amount of money the State of Ohio pays e-Schools to operate, especially in relation to what the state pays for other schools. The story should sound familiar because last year, IO did a report that pointed out the same concerns with Ohio’s e-School funding system.

How much overpayment from state taxpayers do e-Schools receive in Ohio? K12, Inc. – the nation’s largest online school operator – basically funds its operation through the generosity of the Ohio taxpayer to the Ohio Virtual Academy, or so the company says in its SEC filings.

Our Education Policy Fellow, Stephen Dyer, has blogged about one curious quote given by the spokesman for the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) in the State Impact/PD story. Nick Wilson is quoted as saying this:

“(Wilson would) rather compare ECOT’s costs and performance to the state’s urban school districts, which spend more than the $10,700 state average. ‘We spend less than half [of what traditional, public schools spend] and achieve average to above average results.’”

Dyer takes issue with both the paraphrase and quote on his 10th Period blog here and here. His point is this: ECOT has no business comparing its performance with the Big 8 urban districts, and ECOT’s rather low expectation of itself (“average to above average results”) are way too high.

Gov. John Kasich spoke at the ECOT graduation in 2011, even though ECOT graduates 40% of its children. This year, former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Stan Heffner spoke at the ECOT graduation too. As we reported last year, ECOT founder William Lager’s generous campaign contributions could be playing a role in securing such distinguished speakers for a school with such undistinguished results.