Local schools lose more than $24 million to ECOT
By Graig Graziosi
Public schools in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties lost more than $24 million to the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow charter school since 2012, according to a recent report from a state policy group.
Innovation Ohio, a progressive think-tank based in Columbus, released data illustrating how much money each public school district in Ohio lost to online charter school ECOT since the school’s inception in 2012.
Innovation Ohio said $591 million from local school districts statewide went to the online charter school.
ECOT was funded by state tax dollars through the deduction of state aid to local schools in the districts where ECOT students lived.
Of schools in Mahoning County, the Youngstown School District and the Austintown School District had the most money funneled away to ECOT. Youngstown lost $4,175,313, and Austintown lost $809,861.
In Trumbull County, Warren City Schools lost $5,662,122 and Niles City Schools lost $2,095,632.
East Liverpool School District lost the most in Columbiana County – $213,237 over the six-year period.
ECOT came under the scrutiny of state regulators last August after a whistleblower told the Ohio Department of Education school officials had ordered staff members to manipulate student data to suggest students were “attending” their online classes more often than was true.
Auditor of State Dave Yost presented the findings of an audit of the school during a news conference in May, citing evidence collected by web-tracking software ActivTrak that showed the attendance information ECOT provided to the ODE was falsified.
After the state determined students weren’t attending, the ODE moved to recoup nearly $80 million from the charter school, which prompted the school’s closure in January.
State Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, D-33rd, said he was glad the public was becoming more aware of the money lost to the failed charter school.
“I’ve been working on this particular issue for the last three years and on charter- school accountability for the last seven,” Schiavoni said. “Everyone knew the school was a rip-off, so I’ve been trying to put forward bills that would force transparency and accountability for these schools.”
He said ECOT and other charter schools have been allowed to operate with less state scrutiny as a result of lobbying efforts, including those of ECOT’s founder, William Lager.
Lager gave more than $2.1 million to Ohio politicians over the past 20 years, according to a report from The Columbus Dispatch.
A total of $95,000 of those contributions went to the Democratic Party, and $322,279 was spent between the Republican Party and the Republican Caucus.
“It’s one of the ugliest things I’ve seen in politics in my life because the people running the school have been donating millions to mostly Republican lawmakers, who’ve gone on to keep regulations loose on these schools,” Schiavoni said. “But now even Republicans are bailing on defending these schools, including guys like [Gov. John] Kasich and Yost, despite the fact that they’ve allowed it to happen for the last decade.”