A former employee of Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) is blowing the whistle on the online charter school inflating attendance records and learning hours to defraud the state out of millions of dollars. ECOT is now defunct, but at one time was the largest online charter school in Ohio. The whistleblower, who worked in ECOT’s tech department, informed the Ohio Department of Education that school officials told staff to manipulate student attendance and learning hour data using software obtained aft the state demanded that ECOT return overpayments for prior school years.ECOT has had previous problems with the state of Ohio. For the 2015-2016 school year, the Education Department found that the school exaggerated its number of fill-time students and owed the state $50-$60M. Another penalty of $19M was assessed for the 2016-2017 school year.
The software program, called ActivTrak, was installed after the state moved to a reimbursement model that based reimbursement on learning hours instead of enrollment. The software was installed on all student computers and was supposed to accurately track student learning hours. According to the whistleblower, the company used the software to duplicate recorded learning hours in a scheme to collect higher reimbursements from the state. The allegations claim that ECOT would run an accurate report of learning hours, executives would decide that targets were not being met, and then would order employees to “tweak” the software outputs to generate higher revenues for the company. According to the whistleblower, the first run ActivTrak report showed ECOT students with approximately half the learning hours needed to justify the reported enrollment, and thus full payment from the state.
Former executives of the defunct company deny the allegations and an investigation remains ongoing, with some politicians calling for criminal charges based on the whistleblower’s claims.
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