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Ohio May Demand Online Charter Schools Pay Back $80 Million After Audit

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By Benjamin Herold. This story originally appeared on the Digital Education blog.

The Ohio education department could seek repayment of more than $80 million from nine full-time online charter schools it believes inflated student attendance records, reports the Columbus Dispatch.

Among the cyber charters under scrutiny: Ohio's largest cyber, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, which state officials contend was paid for 9,000 students who did not complete enough work to be considered full-time, as well as two cybers that state officials said did not have any full-time students.

ECOT officials have called the audit a "sham" and argued the state changed its attendance-reporting rules midstream, then tried to apply them to schools retroactively. The school had been seeking a court order blocking the state from using log-in records as a means of verifying student attendance. An Ohio judge denied that request late last month.

Leaders from several of the audited Ohio cybers told the Dispatch they believe the state's approach is "unreasonable."

"We really feel like we were misled," Jeff Nelson, the superintendent of the Virtual Community School, told the paper.

State officials said they could verify the attendance of what amounted to 280 full-time students at Virtual Community, far fewer than the 835 the school reported, according to the Dispatch.

California, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania have also seen recent controversies related to the reporting of student attendance at full-time online charters.

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