ECOT: An old story of ‘pay to play’

By Jeff Richards

ECOT – the name sounds so futuristic, almost like a Disneyland production. The reality of ECOT is that in Ohio it has become an old story of one party rule breeding corruption. ECOT stands for Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow and at the moment the online charter school is mired in scandal and facing bankruptcy.

“Ohio is the Wild, Wild West of charter schools” This statement comes from the charter school advocacy group The National Association of Charter School Authorizers, who is a lobbying group that supports the expansion of charter schools across the country. In an article posted on Cleveland.com in December of 2014 the association made this statement: “The National Association of Charter School Authorizers, which is running “A Million Lives” campaign to increase the number of students in quality charter schools says Ohio has not held its charters or authorizers/sponsors to high standards.”

This statement was made a couple years before it was discovered that ECOT had defrauded Ohio taxpayers to the tune of at least 79 million dollars, money meant to educate Ohio’s children.

We know for sure that ECOT stole 79 million from the Ohio Department of Education in 2016 and 2017. We have no idea how much was stolen before from both the state and the federal government. It has just been recently reported that ECOT also stole almost 14 million in federal funds from the Department of Education.

I believe there is more corruption to be discovered. State Auditor, David Yost, who is now running for Ohio Attorney General, said we should try to preserve the evidence from ECOT. You think?

This is much too little much too late. Seven years ago Auditor Yost and Republican legislators were aware of evidence that ECOT was defrauding Ohio taxpayers yet the scandal has only been addressed recently. Perhaps ECOT’s $14,595 in campaign contributions to Mr. Yost convinced him to turn a blind eye. According to the Akron Beacon Journal “Bill Lager, founder of ECOT, and his associates have given generously to Republicans, the total exceeding $2 million.” This is the perfect definition of “pay to play” corruption.

The current state government has betrayed the public’s trust and squandered Ohio’s scarce tax dollars. The Republican controlled legislature and the executive branch of Ohio took their campaign contributions and ignored any type of oversight for ECOT.

The millions of dollars that lined Ohio politician’s pockets belong to the taxpayers of Ohio. This money should be returned to the Ohio Department of Education to improve quality education for the children of Ohio.

The lawmakers who took ECOT contributions should be held accountable for their part in this scandalous scheme. The least they should do is remit the contributions from ECOT to the Ohio Department of Education. Possible legal action should also be contemplated. If our Republican auditor and Ohio legislators who defended ECOT really had our best interests at heart they would resign.

Richards is a candidate for Ohio District 66.