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Procedural Move Could Slow E-School Reform Bill

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Republican Senate President Keith Faber of Celina had some people scratching their heads when he assigned the bill to the Senate Finance Committee.

The Ohio Senate seemed to be poised to move forward on a bill that would crackdown on online schools with bad attendance records. But the Senate president's assignment of the bill may slow it down. 

The state hands out funding to online charter schools, or e-schools, based on how many students are taking courses. Recent reports have unveiled that several e-schools have turned in bad attendance records, essentially overbilling the state for students who didn’t actually show up for class.

Republican Senator Peggy Lehner of Kettering says this is a serious problem that goes beyond wasteful spending.

“We hear it all the time from schools that say their children leave brick and mortar schools, they go to an online school and come back a year or two later and haven’t made any academic progress at all and I think it’s very important that we look at and make sure that isn’t happening,” said Lehner.

As chair of the Senate Education Committee, Lehner expressed interest in tackling the issue by considering a bill introduced by Democratic Senator Joe Schiavoni of the Youngstown area that would implement strict attendance requirements.

But Republican Senate President Keith Faber of Celina had some people scratching their heads when he didn’t assign the bill to Lehner’seducation committee and put it in the finance committee instead.

“I’m confused because it is an education policy bill.”

That’s Schiavoni, the leader of the Senate Dems. He says this kind of maneuver has happened in the past when Lehner showed interest in another one of his bills.

“She was supportive of this idea or said that there was some room to work and all of the sudden it gets moved to finance. It’s not coincidental that this happened twice in a row to two education bills that I was a sponsor of,” said Schiavoni.

Lehner stayed reserved when asked about the move.

“Well that’s the president’s prerogative to put it where he wants to put it, so I suggest you talk to him,” said Lehner.

“Did you think that it was going to end up in your committee? Did you think maybe it should be in your committee?” I asked.

“Well, I repeat that’s the president’s prerogative and I suggest you talk to him,” she said.

Faber says he put the bill in finance because it deals with funding.

“Attendance is one of the ways we reimburse school districts," said Faber. "And certainly one of the ways we count students whether they’re there or not. Since we pay on students, it’s appropriate to go to the finance committee.

The assumption is that Faber moved it to a committee that would be less welcoming of a bill that would strengthen regulations against e-schools. ECOT is the biggest e-school in the state and is run by a major Republican campaign contributor. But Faber defends his decision and says it’s simply just because of the content of the bill.

“We make decisions on where bills go every day and frankly -- it’s -- education funding issues usually go to finance committee.”

Schiavoni’s bill would create stronger record-keeping guidelines that would be monitored by the Ohio Department of Education on a monthly basis. The bill also requires e-schools to hold school board meetings, report any failure to comply with education standards and to include state report card grades in their commercials and ads.

Schiavoni says these are important proposals that could use the expertise of the education committee.

Lehner says there are more variables to take into account when tracking an online student’s attendance because of the ability to log-in and -out and how much time they might spend on a project.

“So we need to take that into account when we look at attendance on an e-school. There are definitely challenges that are connected with keeping attendance and knowing what’s going on with an individual student but we need to do it,” said Lehner.

Schiavoni says Gov. John Kasich expressed support for taking a closer look at the issue while he was in Ohio for his State of the State address.

No word yet on when hearings will begin for the bill.