Accusations fly over charter school's demise

Accusations fly over charter school's demise (WKRC)

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - A failed Ohio charter school is shaping up as a major campaign issue this fall. That school was called ECOT, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow. ECOT closed abruptly in January, after the Ohio Department of Education said ECOT owes the state $80 million for over-billing for students who did not actually do the required amount of on-line work. 12,000 ECOT students had to scramble to find new places to learn.

Today, three progressive groups … Innovation Ohio, The Cincinnati Federation of Teachers, and the Cincinnati Educational Justice Coalition, accused Ohio’s Republican leaders of looking the other way while ECOT billed the state for millions of dollars it should not have received. “We have a message for Ohio Republicans,” said Michelle Dillingham of the Educational Coalition. “You can try to put lipstick on your pig of school choice cyber charters, but you’ve been exposed.”

The groups say Ohio’s Republican Party and many GOP elected leaders received a total of approximately $2 million in campaign contributions from ECOT-related individuals, including the cyber school’s founder, William Lager. The critics held a news conference outside Hughes High School in Clifton Heights, and said school districts in the Greater Cincinnati area lost $55 million which went to ECOT since 2012. CFT President Julie Sellers called ECOT “the largest and most costly scandal in Ohio history.”

Steven Dyer, of Innovation Ohio, said Ohio failed to properly oversee millions of taxpayer dollars which was misspent by ECOT. “It’s very clear that at every opportunity the state had to rein in this money making machine, the state didn’t do it,” Dyer stated. The organizations singled out Attorney General Mike DeWine and Auditor David Yost for criticism. DeWine is now the Republican nominee for governor. Yost is running for attorney general.

Spokespeople for Yost and DeWine say the critics are flat-out wrong. “No elected official has done more to expose the mismanagement at ECOT and hold them accountable than Dave Yost, “ said campaign spokesman Carlo Loparo. Yost recently issued an audit critical of ECOT, and referred the school for possible criminal prosecution.

DeWine campaign spokesman Josh Eck said “Mike DeWine is the only candidate for governor who’s done anything to hold ECOT accountable,” with a special counsel who has been fighting ECOT in court.

Both DeWine and Yost have donated ECOT campaign contributions to charity.

Charter schools are publicly financed but privately operated.

210 ECOT students transferred into the Cincinnati Public Schools district after ECOT closed. Many of those enrolled in the CPS on-line virtual school.

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