Archives for category: Ohio

Bill Phillis, former deputy state commissioner of education in Ohio, is a relentless defender of the state constitution and public schools. In this post, he warns that the state has already lost hundreds of millions on a virtual charter school (ECOT), which went bankrupt. Having demonstrated its ability to supervise one highly visible school, how will it monitor a voucher program?

He writes:

10,000 ECOT’s Coming to Ohio

William Lager, the ECOT Man, purchased for himself the best state officials he could, and that was a lot. Controlling state officials allowed him to steal hundreds of millions from Ohio taxpayers. Did they learn a lesson?

State officials seemingly missed the lesson they should have learned from the ECOT Man: regulate the charters and private schools that are funded by taxpayers.

Since the ECOT travesty, state funds for privatization of education ventures have increased substantially and many regulations have been cancelled. Ohio is on the education privatization trajectory that will result in 10,000 ECOT’s. Since Ohio government was unable to monitor ECOT, how will it monitor vouchers for a couple million students?

HB290, the Universal Voucher Bill, may not be on a fast track, but it will be slipped into the next budget bill, unless the public education community en masse wakes up to the threat.

Charter schools and private schools that are awarded public money will never be appropriately regulated unless the mind-set of controlling state officials changes. That will not happen; hence the EdChoice voucher litigation is essential.

Learn more about the EdChoice voucher litigation

Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/OhioEandA

VOUCHERS HURT OHIO

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

Ohio Republican legislators have drafted a bill to require teachers to teach “both sides” of controversial issues. The sponsor wants teachers to teach the Holocaust from the perspective of German soldiers. Concentration camp guards?

COLUMBUS— Today, State Reps. Brigid Kelly (D-Cincinnati) and Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson), demanded House Bill (HB) 327, the ‘Both Sides’ bill, be barred from any further consideration by the Ohio House after the Republican bill sponsor said in a recent interview that educators should teach “German soldiers’” perspective of the Holocaust. The bill sponsor then proceeded to make several inaccurate and anti-Semitic claims about the Holocaust during the interview.

“Claiming there are two neutral and legitimate sides to the Holocaust is nothing short of denial,” said Rep. Weinstein, a Jewish member of the Ohio House. “Trying to wipe out and ignore our history while imposing big government on school districts to limit First Amendment rights in an unconstitutionally broad and vague way is chilling and reminiscent of the ‘thought police.’”

The ‘Both Sides’ bill would make “failing to fairly present both sides of a political or ideological belief or position” conduct unbecoming of an Ohio educator, which prompted widespread alarm from teachers and concerned parents. Educators and potentially-impacted organizations across the state have asked how teachers would be expected to confront difficult subjects. How do you teach both sides of the Holocaust? Of 9/11? Of slavery? Of Ukraine?

“These comments are absolutely reprehensible, and reveal HB 327’s true intent: to force our educators to teach ‘both sides’ of topics like the Holocaust, slavery or 9/11 that unequivocally have only a right side and a wrong side. This is exactly why we must trust well informed educators, not partisan politicians, to determine what is taught in our classrooms so our children are best prepared for the future,” said Rep. Kelly.

As they’ve worked through four public versions and at least 12 unofficial drafts of the legislation, Republican lawmakers have been forced to grapple with what a requirement to teach both sides of topics like Communism, Christian values, and even American traditions like standing for the National Anthem might look like in the classroom. Putting restrictions on what people can and can’t say, as it turns out, is a difficult task.

That said, the impossible choice the bill would present to teachers – false equivocacy or firing, is one of the most straightforward provisions in the far-reaching and ambiguous censorship bill.

The bill is intentionally broad, making it nearly impossible for schools, universities, police stations, libraries, and local governments to predict when they cross the line into legal liability. Even business-minded organizations have expressed concerns behind closed doors about the legal uncertainty it would impose.

For years, reformers celebrated the grand success of Ohio’s Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow. Politicians lauded it and poured money in. ECOT’s owner reciprocated by giving generously to politicians. Governor John Kasich gave the commencement address one year; Jeb Bush did another year.

But the state auditor (who was also a commencement speaker in 2015) checked the books and the whole ECOT edifice came crashing down. Ghost students, payments to companies owned by the founder, numerous ways to profit from the state’s generosity.

ECOT still owes Ohio more than $100 million.

Theodore Decker wrote in the Columbus Dispatch:

If there is such a thing as justice in this imperfect world, investigators in a federal building somewhere in Columbus are nudging ever close to it while digging into the billion-dollar boondoggle once known as the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow.

ECOT, at one time the state’s largest online charter school, collapsed four years ago amid claims that it had taken millions in undeserved state aid.

Allegations of wrongdoing were traded by the school and state education department. Lawsuits were filed. And about 12,000 students were left in the lurch when the school imploded.

Then ECOT fell out of the public view, overtaken by a thick layer of general dirtiness at a time when political scandal was the norm from the White House to the Statehouse.

An audit just released this week, though, found that ECOT still owes the state more than $117 million.

Ohio Auditor Keith Faber on Tuesday said the shuttered school owes $106.6 million to the state Department of Education and another $10.6 million to the state Attorney General’s office.

As others have before them, Faber’s auditors found that ECOT wasn’t entitled to all the state money it received, including some in 2016 and 2017 and none in 2018.

ECOT as an entity may be gone, but for the sake of all taxpaying Ohioans, it had better not be forgotten.

Looking at the broad sweep of the ECOT swindle, it seems unfathomable that not a single indictment has been lodged against anyone in connection with its shady operations.

The main man behind ECOT was William Lager, a man with a host of Statehouse connections who founded the school in 2000. He also operated Altair Learning Management Inc and IQ Innovations LLC, which had lucrative contracts with ECOT to provide support services. After ECOT fell apart, Attorney General Dave Yost called Lager “the principal wrongdoer“ in the case.

The series of lethal blows to Lager’s empire began in 2016, when the Department of Education demanded repayment of $80 million.

But ECOT’s attendance numbers had been disputed by the state long before that, as far back as 2006. Going back even further, to 2001 and 2002, an audit determined that the state had been overpaying the school by millions.

That ECOT’s attendance numbers were disputed so early on in its existence – and how that problem regardless went unaddressed for so long by a string of governors, legislators and state officials – are looming questions that must be the stuff of any civic-minded federal prosecutor’s dreams.

And maybe, we can hope, they still are.

Yost, while still the state auditor, excoriated ECOT in 2018 and referred his findings to both county and federal prosecutors.

The feds are a secretive lot who have a habit of neither confirming nor denying the existence of any pending investigation, but there have been a few dropped clues through the years that a probe of ECOT is afoot.

One of the biggest came in 2019, when the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice subpoenaed nearly 20 years of ECOT’s campaign contribution records.

More than three years have passed since that development, but the feds also don’t have a habit of rushing their investigations.

Maybe they will wrap things up without uncovering a single instance of criminal behavior.

If you possess a lick of common sense, given what we know already, that outcome would boggle the mind.

But even if that is how an investigation concludes, prosecutors at the very least should know many more details about how ECOT and its principals were permitted to run amok for so long.

Considering Ohio’s taxpayers footed the bill, we have the right to know each and every one of them.

Denis Smith is a retired educator. After teaching for many years, he worked in the charter school office of the Ohio Department of Education. There, he learned about charter frauds and charter political influence. He wrote the following article in the Ohio Capital Journal.

He begins:

Like the famed Casablanca police captain Louis Renault, Ohio taxpayers were shocked, shocked to learn recently from the state auditor’s office that the notorious online charter school ECOT, which closed in 2018, owes the state $117 million. A “Finding for Recovery” posted last week on the auditor’s website provided the details.

The announcement by Auditor of State Keith Faber that the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, known familiarly as ECOT, owes the state such a huge amount for submitting inflated student enrollment data was met by a prolonged yawn among most of the state’s residents as well as media outlets.

Ohio residents were shocked, shocked at the news.

Not.

It seems that Ohioans have formed a natural immunity regarding any additional bad news about ECOT, known by some as “The School for Scandal,” with apologies to playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Back in 2017, one of my articles about “The School for Scandal” likened its longevity to the Energizer Bunny and described the different meanings people derived from seeing the online charter school’s acronym. Readers also chimed in with their own descriptors:

ECOT Effectively Cleaning Ohio’s Treasury

ECOTEndlessly Cheating Ohio’s Taxpayers

ECOTEnough Corruption for Ohio Taxpayers

ECOTEasy Cash on Tap

What does not make the ECOT saga unique is that it merely mirrors much of charterdom and affirms the industry’s image as a slow-motion train wreck. Sadly, a plethora of stories about issues surrounding The School for Scandal’s improprieties published years before its demise were not catalysts for action.

But if misery loves company, ECOT, which operated at full blast draining the state’s treasury for 18 years, is but one of more than 300 failed charter schools now closed that performed with near impunity as the result of a charter-friendly design built into the Ohio Revised Code. That section of the code favors private operators for the schools and limits the amount of transparency and accountability for these constructs that are provided about 150 exemptions in law that public schools themselves are required to meet.

That charter DNA design allowed ECOT’s founder, William Lager, to form privately owned management companies to operate the school and thus limit the amount of sunshine that could be cast by auditors and those charged to provide oversight for the school. That same design for charters, which are privately operated with public funds, allowed Lager to donate generously to some of his favorite Republican politicians, including state Sen. Andrew Brenner, who currently serves as chair of the Senate Education Committee.

Over the years of its operation, as seen by his donations to the Republican leadership, it was clear that Lager was buying friends in the legislature.

“Lager is, by far, Brenner’s largest individual contributor,” the Columbus Dispatch reported in May 2018, four months after the school’s closure. Brenner pocketed $27,564 in three payments from Lager from 2015-2017, but lamely said that the money didn’t come from the school. Moreover, Brenner, a champion of the private sector and privately operated but state funded charter schools, had no qualms about accepting money from Lager, whose fortune was built upon a cash cow fed by the public treasury.

Then there is the situation with Attorney General Dave Yost. From 2013-2015, Yost spoke at ECOT graduation ceremonies and heaped praise on its supposed place in the state’s educational sector. At one of those commencements, the then-Auditor of State presented ECOT with the Ohio Auditor of State Award with Distinction, meaning the school met the standard for a “clean audit.”

Clean audit? Refer to the previous box – ECOT = Effectively Cleaning Ohio’s Treasury. In retrospect, that acronym might be appropriate.

According to the state auditor’s website, the Ohio Department of Education “determined ECOT was not entitled to a portion of the funding it had received in fiscal years 2016 and 2017, as well as none of the funding received in fiscal 2018.”

ECOT critics might pose another question: what about from 2000 to 2015?

The current situation with ECOT reminds us of the classic Thomas Nast cartoon which first appeared 150 years ago:

What Are You Going to Do About It?

More than four years after the school’s closure, that question can’t be avoided.

When it comes to this charter’s audits, some things just don’t add up, particularly when the state auditor went out of his way to praise ECOT. Yet for years some individuals in state government, particularly in the department of education, had serious concerns about the reported enrollment figures for the school, well before the praise heaped on it by then-auditor Yost.

The Auditor of State’s website shows the honor conveyed in January 2016, less than two years before the school was shuttered.

“The school’s excellent record keeping has qualified for the Auditor of State Award with Distinction,” Yost’s AOS website boasted about the nefarious online charter school.

Those familiar with the jaded history of the failed charter, with its founder’s habit of distributing widespread campaign contributions to powerful Republican officeholders, are skeptical about seeing any accountability in this election year for the school’s submission of padded student enrollment figures.

Indeed, when allegations grew in 2016 about the school’s true enrollment, Lager’s contributions to the state Republican Party and officeholders continued unabated. Moreover, a mysterious website called 3rd Rail Politics emerged that year to defend the school as well as attack those who opposed charters in general and ECOT in particular.

If all things related to ECOT have moved at a snail’s pace – or not at all – 4 ½ years after the school’s closure, skepticism about action against Lager and his acolytes in state government, who provided favorable treatment for this generous Republican mega donor, is palpable among the populace.

In 2018, Louise Valentine, Brenner’s Democratic opponent for the Senate seat he currently holds, framed the issue with Brenner and his ties to Lager and the rest of the charter industry.

“It all started with the legislators who crafted the education policies that allowed for a complete lack of oversight for these so-called schools,” she said in a Tweet. “People like @andrewbrenner took $$$$ from ECOT and then defended their lack of accountability.”

There’s that word again – accountability. But there are some astute citizens who are speaking their minds about the influence of donors in the charter industry and with the ECOT situation.

The reader comments following one of the latest Columbus Dispatch articles detailing the auditor’s Findings for Recovery against ECOT contain several comments which are illustrative of the skepticism about eventual action against Lager:

Corrupt GOP general assembly aided and abetted this scam from the beginning.

Or this:

ECOT spent millions getting the GOP elected. No worries, Bill Lager.

As Ohio citizens begin to focus on issues for the fall elections, including gun violence and the wholesale proliferation of weapons, the growing threat from right-wing domestic terrorism, reproductive rights, environmental protection and regulation, along with voting rights, we need to add one more to this list of issues: ECOT – and the charter industry itself.

What are we going to do about it? What kind of controls are in place by law and regulation to ensure the lawful expenditure of public funds consumed by a rogue online charter school? For that matter, with more than 300 “dead” Ohio charter schools that are part of the detritus created by school privatization and educational deregulation, why in heaven is the legislature considering any kind of voucher legislation that will only add more stress to our fracturing society?

If we are supposed to remember in November, we should be alert as to what actions, if any, have been put in motion to do whatever it takes to recover the lion’s share of the $117 million owed to Ohioans. And if you’re skeptical, join the club.

ECOT was supposed to provide daily a minimum of five hours of “learning opportunities” for its students. If a number of our fellow citizens start contacting their elected representatives to ask them what they’re going to do about the ECOT debacle and more regulation of charters, perhaps that might serve as a preemptive measure to stop any further action about educational vouchers. Your call will no doubt provide a learning opportunity for Republicans in the legislature to realize that with ECOT and other charter scandals, enough is too much.

One more thing. Now that we know all of this, what are we going to do about it?

Laugh or cry? I report. You decide.

The Republican lawmaker who drafted the training curriculum that schools would have to follow to allow teachers in Ohio to carry guns owns a gun training business that seemingly fits all the required steps in the bill.

Ohio schools could start arming any staff member as soon as mid-fall, but the training requirement has raised concerns about the involvement of a specific senator.

Although he denies any wrongdoing, state Sen. Frank Hoagland, a Republican from Mingo Junction, is being accused by critics of drafting the bill so his business could benefit financially.

Hoagland helped with the rewrite of House Bill 99, which allows any school board in Ohio to choose to arm school staff members with up to 24 hours of training.

The senator owns a business called S.T.A.R.T., which represents Special Tactics and Rescue Training. It is a firearm training and threat management business.

While the bill was being heard in the Senate Veterans and Public Safety Committee, hundreds came to oppose the bill. Throughout the entire hearing process, more than 350 people submitted testimony against the bill, while about 19 testified in favor.

One of those who testified in support was Dinero Ciardelli, the CEO of S.T.A.R.T. He did not identify himself as being with the company, but he did not legally have to. Hoagland just so happens to be the Chair of the Senate Veterans and Public Safety Committee, so he watched his colleague testify in favor of his bill.

The story: probably not a conflict of interest. On Mars.

Until recently, teachers in Ohio were allowed to carry weapons to school but they had to take the same 700 hours of instruction as peace officers in the state.

The New York Times reported that a new Ohio law allows teachers to carry weapons with no more than 24 hours of training.

Teachers and other school employees in Ohio will be able to carry firearms into school with a tiny fraction of the training that has been required since last year, after Gov. Mike DeWine signed a bill into law on Monday.

While employees have for years been allowed to carry guns on school grounds with the consent of the local school board, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in 2021 that state law required them to first undergo the same basic peace officer training as law enforcement officials or security officers who carry firearms on campus — entailing more than 700 hours of instruction.

That ruling, Mr. DeWine said on Monday, had made it largely impractical for Ohio school districts to allow staffers to carry firearms.

Under the new law, a maximum of 24 hours of training will be enough for teachers to carry guns at school, though the local board will still need to give its approval. Twenty-eight states allow people other than security personnel to carry firearms on school grounds, with laws in nine of those states explicitly mentioning school employees, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Polls in recent years show that a majority of Americans, and a large majority of teachers, oppose the idea of arming teachers…

The governor emphasized that local school districts would still have the ability to prohibit firearms on school campuses. “This does not require any school to arm teachers or staff,” he said. “Every school will make its own decision.”

Last week, Justin Bibb, the mayor of Cleveland, said his city would continue to ban teachers and other non-security employees from carrying guns in schools.

Ohio’s new law, which moved suddenly and swiftly through the State Senate after the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, passed on June 1 along roughly partisan lines, with two Republicans joining all Democrats in voting against it. The bill passed the House in November, also on a nearly party-line vote; one Republican joined the Democrats in voting against it.

In a speech on the Senate floor, State Senator Niraj Antani, a Republican, dismissed the “crocodile tears” of lawmakers who saw the bill as dangerous, arguing that armed teachers would deter school shootings and calling the bill “probably the most important thing we have done to prevent a school shooter in Ohio.”

A sizable opposition against the bill had grown against it during its journey through the Legislature. Hundreds packed into committee rooms for the bill’s hearings, with all but two or three speakers testifying against it. The opposition included gun control groups as well as teachers, school board members, police union representatives and police chiefs.

Robert Meader, who recently retired as commander of the Columbus, Ohio, Division of Police, called the training requirement in the bill “woefully inadequate,” arguing that it would “cause harmful accidents and potentially even needless deaths.”

The bill is the second major gun bill that Mr. DeWine, a Republican, has signed into law this year. The first, which went into effect on Monday, eliminates the requirement for a license to carry a concealed handgun.

Imagine this: a school shooter enters the building armed with an automatic assault weapon. Will teachers have equally powerful weapons? How terrifying will school be if teachers are carrying assault weapons? Terrifying not only for students, but for teachers and administrators.

Another fine piece by Jan Resseger about the sorry state of politics in Ohio, where the Legislature ignores pressing problems, but passes bills for spite and political gain.

She begins:

In its legislative update last Friday, Honesty for Ohio Education reported: “It was an appalling and heartbreaking week in the Statehouse as Ohio legislators passed two bills to arm school personnel and ban transgender girls in female sports, and held hearings for bills censoring education about race, sexuality, and gender and banning gender-affirming healthcare for minors.”

The Plain Dealer’s Laura Hancock explains how, without a hearing, the House banned transgender girls from female sports when legislators added the amendment to another bill: “The Ohio House passed a bill shortly before midnight Wednesday, the first day of Pride Month, with an amendment to ban transgender girls and women from playing high school and college women’s sports… As originally introduced, HB 151 would change the Ohio Resident Educator Program, which assists new teachers with mentoring and professional development as they begin their careers… But on the Ohio House floor late Wednesday night, Rep. Jena Powell, a Darke County Republican, offered an amendment to the bill, which a majority of the house accepted…. House Bill 151 passed 56 to 28 with Democrats voting in opposition. It now heads to the Ohio Senate, which is in summer recess and won’t return until the fall.”

A big part of our problem in Ohio is a long run of gerrymandering—leaving both chambers of our state legislature with huge Republican supermajorities. A committee of legislators from House and Senate were charged to create fair and balanced legislative district maps. The Ohio Redistricting Commission spent the winter and spring redrawing the maps, which were rejected five times by the Ohio Supreme Courtbecause a Court majority found the new maps gerrymandered to favor the election of Republicans. At the end of May, however, a federal district court ruled that the state must end the battle over gerrymandering by using maps—for this year’s August primary and the November general election—which were rejected twice in the spring by the state’s supreme court because they favor Republican candidates.

Citizens in a democracy are not supposed to be utterly powerless, but that is how it feels right now in Ohio.

The legislature also passed bills to increase school privatization, despite the woeful performance of charter schools and vouchers. The 90% of students in public schools will suffer so that the failing charter schools and vouchers may thrive, at least financially.

Stephen Dyer, former legislator, writes that two of every three voucher students in Ohio’s Edchiice program this year never attended public schools.

Yet legislators want to expand it.

No more nonsense about “saving poor kids from failing public schools.” The voucher program is simply a transfer of public funds to parents who never sent their children to public schools. It’s a giveaway of public dollars to parents whose children are in private schools.

And public schools are better than the private religious schools that get public money. The public schools have certified teachers, more advanced classes, a broader curriculum, and extracurricular activities that religious schools do not offer.

Dyer writes:

Ok. My jaw literally dropped when I read this bill analysis of House Bill 583 — a bill originally intended to help alleviate the substitute teacher shortage, but thanks to Ohio Senate Education Chairman Andrew Brenner, is now a giveaway to school privatizers.

Tucked away on page 7 of this analysis, I read this:

… (R)oughly 33% of the new FY 2022 income-based scholarship recipients entering grades 1-12 were students who attended a public school the previous year.

That’s right.

2 of every 3 EdChoice Expansion recipients this year never attended a public school before they received their taxpayer-funded private school tuition subsidy…

And remember that families up to 400% of poverty qualify. How much is that? For a family of 4, $111,000 qualifies as 400% of poverty That would qualify about 85% of Ohio households for this taxpayer funded private school tuition subsidy.

Oh yeah, the bill also eliminates the prorated voucher for EdChoice Expansion. What’s that mean? Well, until this bill, families between 250% and 400% of poverty would qualify for a subsidy, but at a reduced rate from the $5,500 K-8 voucher or the $7,500 high school voucher.

Not anymore. Under HB 583, those prorations go away. What else goes away? The recipient’s loss of a voucher if their income grows beyond 400%.

That’s right.

Someone could make $100,000 one year, qualify their kids for a full, $5,500 Grade 1 private school tuition subsidy, change jobs, make $200,000 a year or more for the next 11 years and keep the full voucher as long as their kid was in school.

Look, I don’t need to keep repeating this, but I will: In nearly 9 of 10 cases, kids taking a voucher perform worse on state testing than kids in the public schools they leave behind. Not to mention the racial segregation the program exacerbates.

Yet here Ohio lawmakers go and dump another $13 million or more of public money into a program that will undoubtedly subsidize the private school tuitions of wealthy, disproportionately white families whose kids never attended public schools.

Who loses? The 90% of kids who don’t take a voucher because the money comes out of their schools’ budget.

Mercedes Schneider reports that the Ohio Legislature passed a bill allowing teachers and staff to carry guns. The Governor has promised to sign it.

Teachers have repeatedly said that don’t want to be armed. Whatever weapon they carry will be far less powerful than an AR15 or other assault weapon that school shooters favor. They worry about accidents, crossfire, killing students or other teachers.

But Ohio teachers will be able to carry weapons and to get training, though not more than 24 hours of instruction in handling a weapon.

Schneider has questions, informed by her experience as a high school teacher:

The bill does not consider that many parents may not want their children attending a school in which one or more teachers have a loaded gun in the classroom. The bill does not require school officials to identify to parents exactly which teachers have loaded guns with them in their classrooms. The bill does not require teacher-arming districts to offer wary parents any alternative, such as immediate transfer to another school or non-packing district with transportation provided.

The bill does not require notifying parents of any safety precautions regarding having a loaded weapon in a classroom full of children.

The bill fails to consider any publicized safety protocol or any training for students or anyone else who must be in the classroom, day after day, with a loaded gun in the same room.

Is the teacher carrying a concealed weapon as that teacher works in close contact with students? Is it locked in a safe in the classroom? Who has access? Are the exact teachers “packing heat” kept a secret from parents and students? What if those teachers are discovered and publicized on social media? Do they then become marks by those who see it as a challenge to confront a teacher carrying a gun? Does it become a dangerous game to some students to try to steal the teacher’s gun? Does videoing the teacher’s gun become a social media challenge?

How will districts pay for the liability insurance? What companies will insure the 24-hour-trained, gun-toting teachers in rooms full of children?

She hopes Ohio will think some more about this decision.

Steve Dackin, who began his job as State Superintendent one month ago, has resigned. Questions were raised about his selection since he was chair of the search committee. Dackin said the controversy was a distraction from the work.

Anyone from Ohio want to shed more light?