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Friday, September 30, 2016

Taxpayers, Kids Win. Ecot Loses Lawsuit. May Have to Repay $60 million.

Three years ago, I met with a group of folks concerned about the state of Ohio's charter schools. The group included members of the traditional public school and charter school advocacy world. During the part of the discussion when we tried to identify the biggest problems with charter schools, eSchools came up. But within minutes, the group shot down the idea of going after eSchools. That's because the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow's William Lager had grown so powerful, thanks to his significant campaign contributions. After all, Gov,. John Kasich had recently spoken at ECOT's graduation.

Lager had said while introducing Kasich at that commencement that "you will find no leader more committed to the ECOT idea than Governor Kasich."

"We'll never get anywhere," I remember someone saying about trying to take on eSchools. I didn't think much differently. Going after ECOT seemed an insurmountable political hurdle.

No more.

Word came out a few minutes ago that ECOT's lawsuit has failed. The school, which claimed to be the nation's largest, now may have to repay Ohio taxpayers more than $60 million of the $109 million it received last year because the state determined ECOT could only verify it had 40 percent of the 15,000 plus kids it claimed. The state still pays ECOT so much per pupil that even with this cut(and including all of its revenue streams), ECOT can still clear as much as 22 percent profit after paying all of its staff.

Now I know ECOT will use every maneuver to overturn this ruling from Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Jenifer French. There will be appeals.

But what a day this is for Ohio's kids and taxpayers.

Since Lager opened ECOT in 2001, Ohio's taxpayers have sent the school $903 million. If the state's recent determination that ECOT was overpaid by 60 percent last year were applied over the last 15 years, Ohio taxpayers have sent about $540 million for kids that ECOT never really had. That's a staggering figure. And it's not outrageous to make that assumption because ECOT was nailed by State Auditor Jim Petro during its first year of operation for the exact same thing.

And what have we received for that? Certainly not high-quality education. ECOT earned only Fs on the new state report card -- something it also achieved two years ago under the less difficult state report card regime.

But here's the outrageous data point: According to the New York Times, no school in the country failed to graduate more kids than ECOT. Not a single school.

Just to give you an idea of the scale of ECOT's failure, here are a few examples:

  • More kids fail to graduate ECOT than attend all grades in the Norwalk school district.
  • More kids fail to graduate ECOT than attend Bexley.
  • More kids fail to graduate ECOT than attend 455 Ohio school districts
  • More kids fail to graduate ECOT than attend every school district in each of these Ohio counties: Vinton, Monroe, Carroll, Morgan, Harrison and Noble.
  • Enough kids fail to graduate ECOT to fill Community Stadium in Albuquerque, N.M. or Cleveland Central Catholic's new stadium.
  • Enough kids fail to graduate ECOT that their number would rank among the nation's 200 largest high schools
It is criminal that a school this adept at failing has succeeded so richly at fleecing Ohio's taxpayers. You want to know why elections matter? This, my friends, is why.

I applaud the Ohio Department of Education for finally standing up to the bully. I applaud those in the legislature on both sides of the aisle to stood up for kids and against the adults who would fail them while robbing their parents blind. I applaud those pro-charter school reformers who stood up for quality choices for Ohio's kids rather than more bad ones like ECOT.

Most of all, I applaud the members of the media and advocates who have banged this ECOT drum for 15 years. And while for too many of those years the drum's beat was lost on the winds of political power, today it was heard.

Loud and clear.



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