William Lager, the entrepreneur who invented The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, had a brilliant political strategy. He has collected nearly $2 billion since the school opened in 2000, and he gave a few million each year in campaign contributions to politicians. No public school could do that. Top state officials spoke at ECOT’s graduation ceremonies, as did Jeb Bush, who is fanatically devoted to digital learning. ECOT was lucrative but had the highest dropout rate of any high school in the nation.

When the State auditor Dave Yost (a recipient of Lager funding) audited ECOT, he discovered that enrollment was inflated and reached a settlement for the mega-school to repay the state on a monthly basis. Rather than give up money to which it was not entitled, the school closed.

One of the most persistent and well-informed critics of ECOT is Bill Phillis, former Deputy Superintendent of Education for Ohio, now retired.

He asks a question: why not hold Lager personally responsible for the hundreds of millions diverted from real public schools?

He writes:

“State probably won’t be able to recover all of the over-payments to ECOT in face of its closure: but continuation of payments is not the solution

“The chairman of the House Education and Career Readiness Committee is in a tizzy because the ECOT closure stops the clawback of $4 million per month. (The chairman, a leading benefactor of ECOT campaign donations, is a consummate defender.)

“ECOT’s average monthly payment for the students “enrolled” thus far this school year is $7.7 million. $4 million per month is being held back to repay the previous fraudulent claims. Therefore the state is spending $7.7 million to get $4 million back. The $7.7 million monthly payment will stop because ECOT, at least temporarily, is out of business; hence, ECOT allegedly will no money to pay back the ill-gained money. But ECOT and the ECOT Man have assets that should be tapped.

“The two ECOT for-profit companies, the real estate and facilities and the personal real estate holdings and other assets might accrue to the amount ECOT owes. The ECOT Man has accumulated vast holdings with money that should have been spent on educating children.

“All the powers of the state should be unleashed to recover the money ECOT owes. School districts have lost hundreds of millions from ECOT’s claims for students not served. The Governor, Attorney General, Auditor, State Superintendent, State Board of Education and the sponsor should join efforts to develop a strategy for recovering every dime possible.

“The chairman and his legislative colleagues should learn from the ECOT fiasco and either eliminate charters or put the entire charter industry under the sponsorship of elected school district boards of education. The for-profit concept must be eliminated.”

William L. Phillis | Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding | 614.228.6540 | ohioeanda@sbcglobal.net| http://www.ohiocoalition.org

PS: When I looked up ECOT in Wikipedia to check the founding date, I note that the only critic quoted works for the pro-choice Thomas B. Fordham Institute, not the knowledgeable Bill Phillis, who has tracked Lager’s misdeeds for years.