The Ohio Supreme Court will consider whether the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) will ultimately be responsible for paying back $60 million owed to the state of Ohio for “ghost students” – even though three of the court’s seven justices have taken campaign contributions from ECOT’s founder Bill Lager.
The Columbus Dispatch reported that the state high court has accepted one ECOT case, and only one point from that case, for review.
From The Dispatch:
The state’s largest online charter school and the Ohio Department of Education are battling over how to properly calculate e-school enrollment, with the state insisting ECOT owes the state tens of millions of dollars after improperly calculating its student numbers.
ECOT lawyers asked the justices to hear its arguments over four “propositions of law,” but the court decided to hear only one: whether the state had legal authority to revise how it counts e-school enrollment.
Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor voted against hearing ECOT’s appeal and would have allowed the 3-0 ruling by the Franklin County Court of Appeals against ECOT to stand. Justices Terrence O’Donnell and Sharon Kennedy voted to consider all four points that ECOT sought to have heard in its appeal.
In another case, the court voted 6-1, with O’Donnell dissenting, to deny a writ sought by ECOT to block the Education Department and State Board of Education from demanding repayment. In the third matter, the court declined to hear a companion appeal from the parents of ECOT students.
The e-charter school says an adverse ruling from the high court could cause it to go out of business.
In a release Friday, the Ohio Democratic Party noted that Justices O’Dennell, French, and DeWine have all accepted contributions from Bill Lager, the founder of ECOT who infamously said of his ventures in charter schooling, “It’s not about the (expletive) kids… it’s about the money.”
Here are Lager’s contributions to current Ohio Supreme Court justices:
ODP Chair David Pepper said in the release that “this sort of scenario is exactly why so many Ohioans look at Columbus and think the game is rigged and the deck is stacked against working families.”
“Ohio Republicans have propped up ECOT and ignored signs of impropriety for years, all the while taking millions of dollars in political contributions from Bill Lager – whose companies have pocketed $170 million in taxpayer dollars,” Pepper said.
He also pointed to the news that ECOT is spending tens of millions of Ohio taxpayer dollars to pay their legal fees and make self-promotional advertising.
“ECOT got caught with their hand in the proverbial cookie jar, and now they’re using our tax dollars to pay their legal bills as they appeal all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court – where three justices who have taken donations from Bill Lager will decide if Bill Lager can keep the money that ECOT and its associated entities pilfered from taxpayers,” Pepper said.
Finally, the ODP release pointed to an Ohio Supreme Court decision from 2015, where the Republican majority on sided with another for-profit charter operator, one who also happens to be a major donor to Republicans, including several members of the Ohio Supreme Court.
These are the conflicts that are inevitable when the judiciary branch of government is politicized and subjected to the American system of influence-peddling, electioneering, and questionable campaign financing.