After the Ohio Department of Education’s David Hansen was found to have intentionally excluded poor-performing charter schools from the evaluations of authorizers, leading to his resignation, and after Ohio’s $71 million federal grant application was found to be “questionable” in its calculation of high-performing and poor-performing charter schools, specifically excluding online charter schools, new interim state superintendent Lonny Rivera was forced to submit a revised list of schools to try and appease federal grant reviewers and obtain the money.
Rivera’s new letter, with the now-much-longer list of poor-performing charters, once again opted to – for reasons that he should be forced to explain – exclude Ohio’s online charter schools in the results. The biggest winner in this exclusion is ECOT, Ohio’s mega-charter school, which has continued to fail thousands of students over the past 16+ years while fleecing taxpayers and public school districts out of over $700 million to date.
Why is ECOT the winner? Their public reputation would be damaged if the state of Ohio had to publicly declare that the school has continually been a poor-performing school for years in an official government document, so excluding all e-schools was the only option Rivera had in order to appease Ohio lawmakers who continually benefit from ECOT founder and charter school magnate, William Lager. Lager continues to fill the campaign coffers of Ohio’s politicians at an astounding rate. We’ve updated Lager’s donation totals based on information from the Ohio Secretary of State website:
Nice. Must be great for a “public school employee” to have that kind of pocket change laying around. With recent discussions about what amount Ohio should pay a new state superintendent (current salary $195,000), it’s not hard to see that Lager certainly has enough money to buy a new superintendent.
With an average total of campaign donations of $246,169.94 per year over the past six years, it leaves us asking how much Lager is making “running public schools”.
So where does Lager get all of this money? From Ohio’s taxpayers, of course.
Lager, the founder of ECOT, is also the owner of two privately-held companies that provide both the management services (Altair Learning Management) and full curriculum (IQ Innovations) to the failingonline school. According to audits released by the Ohio Auditor of State, here’s a summary of the funds that have gone from taxpayers through ECOT and directly to Lager’s companies over the past 15 years:
In short, Lager is living large off of Ohio’s public education funding and the legislation that allows him to get away with it.
And in the most recent “updated” application to the U.S. Department of Education, Lager’s friends once again explicitly allowed ECOT’s performance to hide by adding in this line, confirming that the original application also excluded Ohio’s largest poor-performing charter school:
If online charter schools were included in the revised application, ECOT would be at the top (bottom) of the list based on Ohio’s revised, self-chosen criteria (see page five at link):
Poor Performing Schools
To be poor performing under the second update to the business rules, a school would need to have a Value-Added grade of D or F and a Performance Index grade of D or F.
Here’s ECOT’s report card for 2012-13 and 2013-14, the only two years since Ohio instituted the grade-based report card:
ECOT is clearly a failure and clearly fits Ohio’s criteria of being a poor-performing charter school, so why did the Ohio Department of Education amend the reporting criteria to exclude them? The hard truth is that Ohio’s other large charter e-schools – ECOT’s competition – barely miss being included, so ECOT is really the only e-school of any size that was excluded!
Is that what Lager’s large campaign donations make happen?
I’m going to update and borrow some pieces and parts from our August 2014 post on Lager and ECOT since, despite the claims that Ohio’s legislators are going to “get tough” on charters, nothing has changed and Lager continues to rake in the cash hand over fist.
Here’s the cold, hard truth: William Lager is the very reason ECOT is failing. You see, William Lager and his private companies are solely responsible for the performance of ECOT.
First, his Altair Management Company (over $4.3 million last year):
ECOT contracts with Altair Learning Management I, Inc. (Altair) for a variety of services including management of personnel and human resources, the program of instruction, purchasing, strategic planning, public relations, financial reporting, recruiting, compliance issues, budgets, contracts, and equipment and facilities.
Lager and Altair are responsible for hiring, firing, and the entire program of instruction for the school and have been for over a decade. In this area, based on the continued poor performance of the school, Altair should be evaluated as a failure. The management company has been unable to turn the school’s performance around despite complete control.
Second, Lager’s IQ Innovations Company (over $18 million last year; both FY14 & FY15 include Straight A Grant funding, too):
ECOT contracts with IQ Innovations, LLC for the purchase of curriculum services for ECOT students.
As we hope is obvious, ECOT’s main promotional feature is its online curriculum. According to the ECOT website:
- A great curriculum is only as good as the way it’s delivered to students, and in the virtual world, delivery must be vibrant yet user-friendly, immediate, and technically sound.
Based on the school’s perpetually low report card grades from the Ohio Department of Education, the online curriculum that ECOT is delivering must also be considered a failure. This is twice as damning to Lager’s companies as IQ Innovations is the curriculum provider as chosen by the Altair Management Company.
Question: Would the Columbus Dispatch cover a story in which the Superintendent of the Columbus City Schools hired his own two privately-held companies to provide services for the school district at a cost of over $22,000,000 per year without having to disclose how that money was being spent?
And then what if that same Columbus City Schools superintendent bought two $300,000 homes, paid them off, gave one to his daughter (who he hired to help run one of his companies), then proceeded to purchase a million-dollar estate?
And what if he did so while still managing to donate well over $200,000 per year to political campaigns?
And what if this all occurred while the district was putting up performance numbers that are lower than the district’s results that the Dispatch loves to criticize on such a regular basis?
Would that superintendent have lasted the sixteen years that Lager has been in power while receiving significant raises every year?
Ask yourself a question, what would your annual income have to be to so readily give away $246,000 per year to people who “supposedly” aren’t giving you anything in return? If Lager worships at the Republican altar, then his “tithe of 10%” would put his annual income in the neighborhood of $2,460,000!
Would the Columbus Dispatch ignore this story if the Columbus City Schools superintendent was making over $2 million per year?
Now to be fair and bring this to an apples-to-apples comparison, since Columbus has 3.5 times as many students as ECOT, the Columbus City Schools superintendent’s annual salary would have to be at least $8,610,000 to be comparable to equivalent to Lager’s annual take. Would the Columbus Dispatch write about that? Would they create a cheap graphic to post in the left margin every time they wrote about this scandal?
THAT is the story of William Lager and ECOT. THAT is at least how much Lager is making on a salary funded by Ohio’s taxpayers and approved by Ohio’s Republican majority in the House, Senate, and Governor’s office.
But, since Ohio’s Republican legislators, including Lager’s close friend, John Kasich, aren’t truly interested in transparency as far as charter schools are concerned, we’ll never actually know the true extent of William Lager’s fleecing of Ohio’s taxpayers or why “Ohio’s Greatest Home Newspaper”, the Columbus Dispatch, continues to ignore Lager’s gross abuse of taxpayer-funded, public education dollars. Let’s just say Lager’s making and donating enough to keep it a secret.