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Stephen Dyer · July 9, 2018

When Did ECOT’s “Corrupt” Relationship Start?

There’s been a lot of talk lately about why, all of a sudden, officials are declaring the relationship between ECOT founder and political super donor Bill Lager’s for-profit companies “corrupt” when we’ve known they existed for a long time. Perhaps a little context would help illuminate the debate here. The relationship of concern at the moment is self dealing between Altair Management — Lager’s for-profit company that ran the nation’s largest dropout factory — and IQ Innovations — Lager’s for-profit firm hired to provide the software for ECOT. So when did this relationship begin? That’s where things get interesting. According to an audit released Dec. 22, 2009 by then State Auditor Mary Taylor, IQ Innovations started doing the software work for ECOT Jan. 1, 2009. But it wasn’t until Taylor also mentioned in the Dec. 22 audit that “IQ Innovations, LLC and Altair Learning Management I, Inc. have the same principal owner” that it became publicly known that Lager ran both firms — a relationship now called “corrupt”. Importantly, though, you would have had to know to look at ECOT’s audits. The only people that would have clearly and directly known about this relationship early on most likely would have been Auditors of State Mary Taylor and David Yost. The first widely dispersed mention of IQ Innovations was in a June 12, 2010 Columbus Dispatch story about Jeb Bush speaking at ECOT’s 2010 graduation where it was passingly mentioned that “Lager … (also) founded the online learning company” IQ Innovations. However, the additional founding wasn’t referring to Altair and IQ’s now “corrupt” relationship; it was referring to ECOT and IQ’s relationship. The first media mention that Altair and IQ Innovations were affiliated was in a July 30, 2012 story about a new CEO taking over Altair. According to the three-sentence note in the Columbus Dispatch, the new CEO “will direct daily operations of Altair and its associated companies, including IQ Innovations and ECOT, the state‚Äôs largest online K-12 charter school, the company announced last week.” So the only way to know about the “corrupt” relationship prior to July 30, 2012 would have been to know to read ECOT’s audits from 2009 on, or know the inner workings of the company. Of course the five-alarm fire was rung May 18, 2016, when the New York Times wrote a huge ECOT expose whose headline read “Online School Enriches Affiliated Companies if Not Its Students.”

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