Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow v. Ohio Department of Education, 080818 OHSC, 2017-0913

Docket Nº:2017-0913
Opinion Judge:FISCHER, J.
Party Name:Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, Appellant, v. Ohio Department of Education, Appellee.
Attorney:Zeiger, Tigges & Little, L.L.P., Marion H. Little Jr., John W. Zeiger, and Christopher J. Hogan, for appellant. Organ Cole, L.L.P., Douglas R. Cole, Erik J. Clark, and Carrie M. Lymanstall, for appellee. McNees, Wallace & Nurick, L.L.C., Karl H. Schneider, and Michael V. Passella, urging reversal...
Judge Panel:O'Connor, C.J., and Gwin and DeGenaro, JJ., concur. DeWine, J., not participating. W. Scott Gwin, J., of the Fifth District Court of Appeals, sitting for French, J. O'Donnell, J., dissenting. Kennedy, J., dissenting.
Case Date:August 08, 2018
Court:Supreme Court of Ohio
 
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2018-Ohio-3126

Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, Appellant,

v.

Ohio Department of Education, Appellee.

No. 2017-0913

Supreme Court of Ohio

August 8, 2018

Submitted February 13, 2018

Appeal from the Court of Appeals for Franklin County, No. 16AP-863, 2017-Ohio-5607.

Zeiger, Tigges & Little, L.L.P., Marion H. Little Jr., John W. Zeiger, and Christopher J. Hogan, for appellant.

Organ Cole, L.L.P., Douglas R. Cole, Erik J. Clark, and Carrie M. Lymanstall, for appellee.

McNees, Wallace & Nurick, L.L.C., Karl H. Schneider, and Michael V. Passella, urging reversal for amicus curiae Ohio Coalition for Quality Education.

Murray, Murphy, Moul & Basil, L.L.P., Brian K. Murphy, and Joseph F. Murray, urging reversal for amici curiae former members of the Ohio General Assembly.

Day Ketterer, Ltd., Albin Bauer II, and Thomas C. Holmes, urging reversal for amici curiae Akron Digital Academy, Newark Digital Academy, Phoenix Academy Community School, and Quaker Digital Academy.

Joseph Schiavoni, Bethany E. Sanders, and Scott W. Stockman, urging affirmance for amici curiae members of the Ohio Senate and House of Representatives Democratic Caucuses.

FISCHER, J.

{¶ 1} In this discretionary appeal, we address whether R.C. 3314.08 authorizes defendant-appellee, the Ohio Department of Education ("ODE"), to base funding of an Internet-based community school, or e-school, on the duration of student participation. We hold that it does, as the statute is unambiguous and allows ODE to seek that data in order to calculate funding.

I. Factual Background and Procedural Posture

{¶ 2} Plaintiff-appellant, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow ("ECOT"), is Ohio's largest e-school and has been in operation since 2000.

{¶ 3} Under R.C. 3314.08(C)(1), funding for community schools, which are commonly known as charter schools, is determined "on a full-time equivalency ['FTE'] basis for each student enrolled." R.C. 3314.08(H)(3) sets forth how FTE is measured: The department shall determine each community school student's percentage of full-time equivalency based on the percentage of learning opportunities offered by the community school to that student, reported either as number of hours or number of days, is [sic] of the total learning opportunities offered by the community school to a student who attends for the school's entire school year. However, no internet- or computer-based community school shall be credited for any time a student spends participating in learning opportunities beyond ten hours within any period of twenty-four consecutive hours. Whether it reports hours or days of learning opportunities, each community school shall offer not less than nine hundred twenty hours of learning opportunities during the school year.

A community school reports its data to ODE, and ODE then determines the amount of public funding the school will receive based on the figures that are reported.

{¶ 4} Under R.C. 3314.08(K), ODE is authorized to review a community school's data and to adjust a school's funding (by reducing or increasing future funding, as appropriate) based on the result of its review. In an effort to make the reviews consistent throughout the state, ODE provides reviewers with a review manual, or handbook. ODE publishes the handbook on its website and frequently revises it.

{¶ 5} ODE typically conducts reviews on a five-year cycle for each community school, unless matters arise warranting a review sooner. ECOT's last review occurred in 2011. ECOT was therefore due for a regularly scheduled review in 2016.

{¶ 6} For the 2015-2016 academic year, ECOT reported more than 15, 000 enrolled students and received more than $106 million in public funding from ODE. During the preliminary stage of its review, ODE requested that ECOT submit data to demonstrate the duration and frequency of students' participation (i.e., log-on and log-off times) in ECOT's online educational programs.

{¶ 7} In response to ODE's request, ECOT provided log-on/log-off records showing that, on average, its students spent approximately one hour per day logged on to ECOT's online educational platform. ODE continued to request data from ECOT showing the duration of a student's participation for the final FTE review. However, ECOT did not comply with ODE's request.

{¶ 8} Instead, on July 8, 2016, ECOT sought a permanent injunction and declaratory judgment in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas seeking to bar ODE from requesting or considering data showing the duration of a student's participation during its review. The trial court ultimately denied ECOT's claims against ODE, and the Tenth District Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's judgment.

{¶ 9} ECOT appealed. On September 13, 2017, we accepted review of ECOT's fourth proposition of law, which argues that ODE is barred by the language of R.C. 3314.08 from calculating funding based on a student's participation.

II. Analysis

{¶ 10} First, ECOT argues that the Tenth District erred when it held that R.C. 3314.08(H)(3) unambiguously "compels the conclusion that although enrollment is a necessary predicate to funding, the amount of funding per student is dependent on a measure of student participation." 2017-Ohio-5607, ¶ 25. ECOT agrees that the statute is unambiguous, but in its view, R.C. 3314.08 demonstrates the legislative intent that funding for community schools is based on enrollment, not on the duration of student participation.

A. Standard of review

{¶ 11} We review questions of statutory interpretation de novo. Ceccarelli v. Levin, 127 Ohio St.3d 231, 2010-Ohio-5681, 938 N.E.2d 342, ¶ 8. When considering the meaning of a statute, our" 'paramount concern is the legislative intent' of its enactment." State ex rel. Steffen v. First Dist. Court of Appeals, 126 Ohio St.3d 405, 2010-Ohio-2430, 934 N.E.2d 906, ¶ 30, quoting State ex rel. Steele v. Morrissey, 103 Ohio St.3d 355, 2004-Ohio-4960, 815 N.E.2d 1107, ¶ 21. Because a statute must be considered as a whole, "a court cannot pick out one sentence and disassociate it from the context, but must look to the four corners of the enactment to determine the intent of the enacting body." State v. Wilson, 77 Ohio St.3d 334, 336, 673 N.E.2d 1347 (1997). When considering the four corners of an enactment, we "consider the statutory language in context, construing words and phrases in accordance with rules of grammar and common usage." State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Grace, 123 Ohio St.3d 471, 2009-Ohio-5934, 918 N.E.2d 135, ¶ 25. Provided that "[t]he meaning of the statute is unambiguous and definite, it must be applied as written and no further interpretation is necessary." State ex rel. Savarese v. Buckeye Local School Dist. Bd. of Edn., 74 Ohio St.3d 543, 545, 660 N.E.2d 463 (1996).

B. RC. 3314.08 is unambiguous

{¶ 12} "Community schools" are public schools that are "independent of any school district." R.C. 3314.01(B). R.C. Chapter 3314 governs community schools, including setting forth a formula for calculating public funding for those schools. R.C. 3314.08(C)(1) first states that ODE is obligated to pay a community school "on a full-time equivalency basis, for each student enrolled."

{¶ 13} R.C. 3314.08(H) then states that ODE "shall adjust the amounts subtracted and paid under division (C) of this section to reflect any enrollment of students in community schools for less than the equivalent of a full school year." (Emphasis added.) A student is "enrolled" on the later of two dates: (1) on which "the school both has received documentation of the student's enrollment from a parent and the student has commenced participation in learning opportunities" or (2) 30 days before a student is entered into a management system that is established according to statute. (Emphasis added.) R.C. 3314.08(H)(2). The term "learning opportunities" must be defined in the sponsor contract, which must describe both classroom-based and non-classroom-based learning opportunities and must "be in compliance with criteria and documentation requirements for student participation" established by ODE. (Emphasis added.) Id.

{¶ 14} But it is in R.C. 3314.08(H)(3) that FTE is explained; it is the percentage calculated by dividing the learning opportunities offered by the community school to one student by the total learning opportunities offered by the community school to a student who attends the school for an entire year. The calculation can be made based on either a number of hours or a number of days. However, an e-school cannot be credited for any time a student spends participating in learning opportunities beyond 10 hours within a 24-consecutive-hour period. By stating that the maximum daily...

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