How the ECOT Scandal Turned Potentially Criminal

A whistleblower is accusing officials of the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow of intentionally inflating the school’s enrollment to keep receiving $100 million from the state. And this happenedĀ after the school was fined $60 million for … inflating the school’s enrollment.

So why are there now calls for criminal investigations? Because the whistleblower’s claims show a pretty clear intent to defraud taxpayers. But how would a software switch show that intent?

Here’s how. The way ECOT and other charter schools are paid by the state is the school submits student ID numbers of students the schools claim are attending the school. The Ohio Department of Education then pays them out of the state aid meant to go to the school district in which the student resides.

Occasionally, the state will do detailed accounting to verify the attendance records. When it did that for ECOT after the 2015-2016 school year, the department found that ECOT could only demonstrate it had about 40 percent of the students it billed the state for educating. Hence the $60 million fine.

What did ECOT do in response? According to the whistleblower, the school purchased software that would allow the school to more easily claim that they should be paid, even if the student never engaged in any learning. ECOT would thus continue to take more state aid away from school districts — every one of whom outperformed ECOT on state report cards.

So after the state nailed ECOT for inflating enrollment — and getting paid $60 million more than it should — ECOT’s remedy was to game the system so they could more easily justify full state payments for kids who never engaged in learning. They didn’t change their actions; they simply changed software so they could hide them better.

Hence the calls for criminal probes.

The next question is whether the state officials who have received $1.8 million from ECOT officials over the years (with another $1 million to political parties) will undertake the necessary oversight to hold ECOT accountable for the taxpayer money lost to this school. Here is a list of all the politicians and parties who have received campaign contributions from all ECOT employees and just ECOT founder William Lager, who now lives in a multi-million dollar Key West mansion.

Given that the whistleblower reached out to the head of the State Board of Education, who punted the issue to the department’s legal team in August, who then sat on the allegations until reporters started asking about them, perhaps more people should keep demanding justice for the students and taxpayers who have been victimized by ECOT’s money making scheme?

ECOT Founder William Lager’s Key West home