The Akron Beacon Journal/Ohio.com Editorial Board on Sunday went off on ECOT and the politicians who let the e-charter school bilk taxpayers out of $80 million.
“All of this could have been avoided if the state had been watchful and responsive from the start, when ECOT opened in 2000. Unfortunately, the state waited until 2016. And when it finally got serious about looking behind the curtain? It found more than the school’s already evident record of poor academic performance. It discovered nothing less than financial fraud,” the board wrote in the scathing editorial.
Why was ECOT allowed to operate in this way? William Lager, the founder of the school, saw how the Statehouse worked. He and allies have ranked among the leading donors of political money to Republicans, who have been in charge since 2000 except for a brief moment.
Republican leaders, in effect, took the money and looked the other way. Some even celebrated ECOT. John Kasich, Dave Yost, Cliff Rosenberger and William Batchelder, among others, have attended its graduation ceremonies.
Of late, the Republican majorities have begun to apply the necessary oversight. Yet they bear the burden of this scandal, such amounts of public money squandered. They long have touted the virtues of charter schools. The concept has proved worthy — when done right. In this instance, Republicans grabbed the money without concern for much else.
In a news release Monday, the Ohio Democratic Party jumped in with even more information, linking to the Ohio.com editorial and providing five “things to know about the ECOT Chartergate scandal,” shared below:
1. In 2007, Gov. Ted Strickland came into office with an agenda to take on failing charter schools. According to the New York Times, Strickland’s first budget “proposed a moratorium on new charters and to bar commercial operators from managing those already running.” However, the Republican-led Statehouse “beat back those proposals.”
2. Then-Rep. Jon Husted sponsored the legislation that “created a buffer between the Department of Education and charter schools by placing control in the hands of ‘sponsors,’ or ‘authorizers.’” This led to a massive explosion in charter schools — and no direct state oversight.
3. Auditor Dave Yost is trying to spin away the fact that he gave the e-charter his “Auditor of State Award with Distinction,” even after a whistleblower “made allegations that ECOT was cooking its attendance books.”
Yost’s claims that his office doesn’t “make up the rules” and that they “audit to the rules that other people do” conveniently obscure that his office essentially allowed ECOT to set the terms of their own investigation back in 2014.
Yost’s office made an agreement with ECOT that limited the scope of the examination. In what is called an “agreed upon procedures engagement,” or AUP, auditors were limited to examining certain records and could offer no opinions or note management weaknesses. The agreement specified that the examination — it’s not called an audit — was solely for the benefit of ECOT.
Then Yost’s office reported that all was OK: ECOT students were offered learning opportunities justifying tens of millions in state payments. Auditors verified that a list of these offerings existed and that an ECOT teacher certified that ECOT billed the state correctly.
4. While Bill Lager occasionally made contributions to Democratic officials last decade, the vast majority of his political giving — then and since — went to Ohio Republicans. Mother Jones estimates Lager’s campaign contributions at “$1.9 million over the course of 18 years, mostly to Republican candidates.” Ohio Democratic organizations have not received a single contribution since 2009, perhaps because Strickland took a strong stance against failing, for-profit charter schools.
5. The Ohio Republican Party took contributions from Lager and Altair staffer (and former Jim Petro staffer) Melissa Vasil as recently as June 2017 — more than one month after a state hearing officer ruled that ECOT owed the state $60 million.