By Lexus Cole

The scandal surrounding the now-shuttered Electronic Classrooms of Tomorrow (ECOT) is officially the largest and costliest scandal in Ohio’s history, involving hundreds of millions of Ohio taxpayer dollars. Last week, southwest Ohio education advocates spoke out about how their school districts are suffering as a result of the scandal, and called out Ohio Republicans for failing to intervene as ECOT stole millions from Cincinnati- and Dayton-area schools.

In January, ECOT — then Ohio’s largest online charter school — abruptly closed, leaving students and parents scrambling. Months later, a whistleblower revealed that the school was defrauding Ohio taxpayers by using software to intentionally inflate attendance data and overcharge the state. A recent analysis estimates that ECOT stole nearly $200 million from Ohio taxpayers.

Flanked by Eddy the Eagle, ECOT’s former mascot, advocates criticized Ohio’s Attorney General Mike DeWine for his failure to hold ECOT accountable, as well as for accepting campaign contributions from the online charter school. for his own personal gain from them. Under DeWine’s watch, Montgomery County school district lost more than $38 million and Hamilton County more than $31.1 million taxpayer dollars.

In Cincinnati, Julie Sellers, President of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers, said that ECOT not only hurt Cincinnati Public Schools’ budget, but also the students enrolled in the district. Mike DeWine and other Ohio Republicans, Sellers said, “sold out our kids, our schools, to the highest bidder.”

Lee Black, an 18-year veteran of Cincinnati Public Schools, offered his own testimony outlining the damage caused by ECOT: “I live on the west side and as I’m driving to my school, I see some high school students who have to walk two miles to their school. Two miles may not seem like a lot today, but when it’s 12 degrees outside in the winter time, two miles is a long walk and it’s very discouraging to even get up and leave the house to go to school under those conditions.”

“All of these things are happening under the Ohio Attorney General, Mike DeWine’s, watch,” Black said. “[DeWine] has proved that he cannot be trusted by teachers. So, regardless of your political affiliation, our children’s education and our taxpayers deserve better.”

In Dayton, Mohamed Al-Hamdani, a member of the Dayton Public School Board, also called out Ohio Republicans for their role in the ECOT scandal. “A lot of the folks who benefitted the most from ECOT are running the show in Columbus. That would be our current Attorney General and candidate for the governorship, Mike DeWine,” Al-Hamdani said.

Calling for action, Al-Hamdani added that the schools “deserve that money back, a full investigation needs to be launched. And people who defrauded our taxpayers, our parents, and our children need to be held accountable.”

Robin Roberts, a concerned parent of three and the daughter of a Dayton school employee, also criticized Republican officials for failing to act. “This is the largest and costliest scandal in Ohio history, and Ohio Republicans spent years burying their heads in the sand to hide this scandal.”

At the conclusion of the press conference in Cincinnati, Stephen Dyer, an Education Policy Fellow with Innovation Ohio, said that “everyone should be offended at what ECOT did to our kids.” Dyer ended each press conference by reminding listeners of the struggles public schools were going though: not being able to put glass in windows, not being able to afford textbooks or supplies.

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