For almost 18 years, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow charter school was allowed to collect state pupil reimbursement without having to prove that students were engaged in learning.
That ended this year when state education officials finally drew the line and ordered ECOT to pay back nearly $80 million in overpayment for student enrollment.
Now that ECOT is in bankruptcy, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is seeking to recover $200 million from ECOT and possibly from founder, Bill Lager, who made himself a millionaire with the online school — while also lining the campaign accounts of predominantly Republican candidates.
The newly filed claim by Mr. DeWine alleges Lager breached his duty to look after ECOT’s financial interests, held an illegal interest in public contracts, and violated laws to form a pattern of corrupt activity, essentially since the school began.
This is quite the reversal for Mr. DeWine who, in the past has accepted campaign contributions from Mr. Lager. He has donated the $12,533 from Mr. Later to charities.
Democrats say Mr. DeWine was slow to act and is only stepping up now to mitigate the political attacks coming from his opponent in the Nov. 6 election for governor, Democrat Richard Cordray. (Mr. Cordray also received money from Mr. Lager — $600, in 2006. He gave that money to a public school foundation.)
ECOT was an online school in which many students spent as little as an hour a day and for whom the state paid full state pupil reimbursement — essentially the same amount of money paid to brick-and-mortar schools that students attended six hours a day.
Mr. Lager donated more than $2 million to Republican candidates while running this statewide online school, under inadequate state supervision.
Republicans created the Ohio charter school program in 1997 and have nurtured it to its present status today with all of its failures and successes. A case of success is the Toledo School for the Arts.
ECOT will not go down as one of the successes.
Ohio Democratic Chairman David Pepper says “DeWine’s recent court filing is a baby step, and one he should’ve taken years ago.” Mr. DeWine said he had no previous ability to go after ECOT and is acting aggressively within the law now.
All of Ohio’s Republicans share the blame for the system flaws that contributed to this educational flop. In taking on Mr. Lager directly, Mr. DeWine is putting himself on the right side at last. Voters can decide whether it’s too little, too late.
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