The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) is the biggest online charter scandal in the nation, for now. The state poured more than $1 billion over 17 years into this for-profit enterprise, with no accountability until recently. After the state finally audited ECOT, it learned that there was no system in place to know whether students logged in, whether they participated in instruction, and commenced proceedings to recover at least $80 million. ECOT fought the state in court and lost. Rather than return the money, ECOT closed its doors.

Almost every Republican official running for statewide office received campaign funding from William Lager, the entrepreneur behind ECOT. Mike DeWine, the Republican candidate for governor, returned the ECOT money, but continues to accept contributions from other for-profit charter “schools.” Online charter schools everywhere have dismal records and are typically the worst-performing schools in every state where they are allowed.

One thing became obvious: the Republican elected officials who received Lager money showered ECOT with favors, including no-accountability, no oversight, and regular appearances as graduation speakers. It is striking how little money it cost Lager to buy their loyalty.

Bill Phillis, Ohio watchdog, writes here that ECOT got even more than the $1 billion that has been reported.

He writes:

Remember the Straight A Fund grants?

State Superintendent Dr. Richard Ross hatched the idea of passing out grants for school improvement via the Straight A Fund. Millions of dollars were distributed.

Incredibly, in fiscal year 2014, ECOT received a grant of $2,951,755 in Straight A Funds. (ECOT also received a huge grant of state money that was funneled through The Ohio State University.) ECOT over the years collected $130 million in federal funds. All these funds were in addition to the billion dollars ECOT took from school districts.

When ECOT received the $3 million Straight A Fund grant, at least some Ohio Department of Education (ODE) officials should have known that ECOT was collecting money for students not participating in the ECOT program.

The $3 million Straight A Fund grant to ECOT was for “A Personalized Learning Road Map for Every Math Student Grades 6-12…” During the 2015-2016 school year ODE found less than half of ECOT students were participating in any part of the ECOT program.

Obviously the grant didn’t reach all students-possibly not any students.

At this juncture in the ECOT saga, will there be any attempt to claw back any portion of state grants and federal dollars ECOT received? Did anyone at ODE monitor the ECOT expenditures of the federal and state grants?

Who is responsible for allowing ECOT to squander hundreds of millions of dollars?

William L. Phillis | Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding | 614.228.6540 ||

Bill Phillis also posted this question from a public education advocate:

Jeanne Melvin, President of Public Education Partners (PEP), reveals a Michigan charter advocate’s political campaign donations to Ohio politicians

The charter industry has birthed a network of political campaign donors devoted to the expansion of the industry. Such groups as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), All Children Matter, Inc., (formerly run by Betsy DeVos), Michigan Mackinac Center for Public Policy and Democrats for Education Reform, influence state and federal legislation in support of the charter industry.

The idea that charters would be operated by teachers and parents in the context of a school district was hijacked. A charter industry has evolved which has spawned a multi-billion dollar support group. Education policy is primarily driven by campaign contributions from charter operators and charter support groups.

To the Editor:

I respond to the Sept. 2 article “Which side is right in political battle over ECOT blame?” Why is the demand for accountability concerning the largest scandal in our state’s history being called a political battle?

Speaking up for our children and their families, as well as Ohio taxpayers, should never be considered a partisan issue.

There is no excuse for allowing this $1 billion charter school fraud to continue for 18 years. Concerns were raised about the cozy relationship between charter school boards and their management companies in 2002, and our elected officials looked the other way to protect their campaign coffers.

If Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow’s structural setup had been the same since 2000, why is Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine finally taking legal action against William Lager? If it’s illegal now for Lager to direct taxpayer money to his companies, why wasn’t that problem handled years ago?

It’s nice to see that DeWine recently donated $12,533 in Lager contributions to charity, but sadly, he continues to take campaign cash from for-profit charter school companies.

On Aug. 31, his campaign received $10,000 from J. C. Huizenga, a member of the board of directors of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy “think tank.”

Huizenga is also one of the major funders of All Children Matter Inc., which still owes Ohio a $5.3 million election fine. The unpaid fine dates back to 2008, when All Children Matter – a group that lobbied for school-choice legislation and was run by Betsy DeVos – broke Ohio election law by funneling $870,000 in contributions through its nationwide PAC to its Ohio affiliate, according to the Ohio Elections Commission.

Huizenga’s company, National Heritage Academies, is affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council and sits on its Education Task Force. Through ALEC, corporations, ideologues and their politician allies follow an aggressive agenda to legalize spending public tax dollars to subsidize private K-12 education such as charter schools.

It’s time for Ohio voters to elect pro-public education candidates in November. Our children are counting on us.

Jeanne Melvin, Columbus

Huizenga’s charter chain, National Heritage Academies, operates for profit. He is a close associate of Betsy DeVos.