ECOT scandal bloodies GOP

Last week’s 4-2 ruling by the Ohio Supreme Court that enables the state to recover millions of dollars from the scandal-ridden Electronic Classroom Of Tomorrow charter school has once again highlighted the unholy alliance between the money-grubbing charter industry and the Ohio Republican Party.

Indeed, ECOT has become the GOP’s worst nightmare leading up to the Nov. 6 statewide election.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the Democratic Party is doing all it can to ensure that such a violation of the public’s trust remains on the political front burner.

Indeed, Democrats wasted no time in portraying the Supreme Court ruling as vindication of their long-expressed contention that the GOP’s close ties to private charter operators have resulted in an anything-goes attitude in the state.

Billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on this experiment in education that has largely proven to be a failure. Republican legislators are to blame for refusing to apply the same rigorous standards, rules and regulations to the charters that govern public schools in Ohio.

Indeed, the lack of transparency has been a major source of anxiety for most taxpayers.

ECOT, which sucked up almost $1 billion since 2000 when a top Republican Party donor, Bill Lager, launched it, is the poster child of the unholy alliance between the GOP and the charter industry.

The brazen attitude of the charter operators can be seen in the way they interpreted state law. They argued that the online schools should receive full payment for enrolled students, even if those students only rarely turned on their computers.

Thus, when the Ohio Department of Education in 2016 sought to recover $80 million after finding students who were logging in less than the 920 hours of instruction required by the state, ECOT sued.

Lager and his corporate colleagues argued that the department improperly changed the rules, illegally basing state funding on student participation, which is not the standard for traditional schools.

But the Supreme Court disagreed.

“We determine that (state law) is unambiguous and authorizes ODE to require an e-school to provide data of the duration of a student’s participation to substantiate the school’s funding,” wrote Justice Patrick Fischer for the majority.

The department of education hailed the high court’s decision.

“Today’s ruling confirms the expectation that Ohio’s online schools document the education they provide,” said spokeswoman Brittany Halpin. “Ultimately, this is what’s best for students and taxpayers alike. We’re pleased the Ohio Supreme Court agreed with the department’s interpretation of the law, and we remain committed to ensuring that all community schools receive their correct funding.”

The high court ruling has become political catnip for Democrats in this year’s statewide election.

While the party is using a broad brush in its condemnation of Republicans, there are two prominent GOP’ers being singled out as enablers of ECOT’s brazen attitude.

Attorney General Mike DeWine, the Republican nominee for governor, and Auditor David Yost, Republican nominee for attorney general, have been accused of turning a blind eye to ECOT’s raid on the public treasury and for not using their statutory powers to rein in Lager.

Here’s what Steve Dettelbach, the Democrat opposing Yost in the attorney general’s race, had to say:

“Today’s ruling puts to rest the absurd claim used by Dave Yost and others that they couldn’t stop ECOT without a change in the rules. Yost could have required the school to produce these records a number of times, but instead, he backed down.”

In response, Carlo LoParo, the state auditor’s spokesman, told The Columbus Dispatch that Yost long sought more accountability from charter schools.

“Yost and others advocated for reforms, which took effect in 2016, giving access to more information which ultimately forced ECOT to shut down.”

Indeed, some time ago, members of The Vindicator’s Editorial Board asked Yost why he did not push for legislation that would force charter schools to adhere to the same standards, rules, regulations and oversight that govern public schools.

The auditor contended he was not able to persuade the Republican majority in the General Assembly to go beyond the reforms enacted in 2016.

It is interesting that Yost’s claim of legislative inaction mirrors the argument being made by Zack Space, the Democratic candidate for state auditor, against his Republican opponent, Keith Faber, the former president of the Senate.

Here’s what Space said to the Dispatch last week:

“This scam, which bilked Ohio taxpayers out of at least $80 million, was perpetrated by unscrupulous and profiteering corporate executives, and abetted by the self-interested politicians they purchased with campaign contributions.”

Faber received $36,513 in ECOT money that he has donated to “high quality” charter schools and other charities.

Here’s the bottom line: Republicans are scrambling to distance themselves from ECOT and other failed charter schools, but Democrats are making sure the voters remember the incestuous relationship that has long existed between the GOP and the charter industry.

Because of the billions of public dollars that have been diverted away from public schools, this is an issue that has strong campaign legs.

Thus the question: Who will Ohio Republicans throw under the bus in order to prevent the entire statewide ticket being tainted?

The answer to the question can be found in another question: Who is most valuable to the GOP: governor, state attorney general or state auditor?