COLUMBUS — The race for Ohio State Auditor between State Rep. Keith Faber (R-Celina) and Democrat Zack Space has been pushed to a fever pitch as Space’s aggressive campaign alleging corruption in the Ohio General Assembly has Faber working to correct what he calls a false narrative.
Space’s campaign has leaned hard on Faber’s role as Senate president during the years that the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, or ECOT, had been found fudging attendance numbers to pull in higher allocations.
Space claims Faber had been complicit. Faber said Space has been throwing out unrelated data points to try to pin ECOT’s wrongdoing onto Republican leadership.
In early May, current Ohio Auditor David Yost revealed results of an investigation that show ECOT padded enrollment numbers to receive an extra $80 million from the state. Yost’s findings could result in criminal prosecution of ECOT and its founder, Bill Lager, although no charges have been made against ECOT as of this time.
“They installed a software system that tracks exactly where the kids go, how they spend their time and they never shared that information with ODE (Ohio Department of Education),” Yost said in an interview with WCMH in Columbus. “They kept submitting information they knew was false.”
Space’s campaign has alleged that Republicans did not do enough to track ECOT during Faber’s time as top Ohio Republican lawmaker because of Lager’s role as a high-profile campaign donor to Republican candidates. Space has called on Republicans to give those donations to charity.
Most have done so. Faber himself decided to give the $36,513 he had received from Lager to charter schools throughout Ohio, such as Cristo Rey Schools, Dayton Early College Academy and Breakthrough Schools.
Faber has also publicly denounced ECOT after Yost revealed his findings — a reversal from positive statements concerning ECOT said in the past.
“If they were manipulating numbers and they weren’t following the rules, shame on them,” Faber said. “They should be held accountable.”
Faber also took some responsibility for taking ECOT down, noting House Bill 2, a charter school reform bill that passed while Faber was Senate President.
“ECOT was operating in a way that everyone presumed was okay, and it wasn’t until the legislation said ‘we kind of want to know how they were counting students,’” Faber said. “If the law didn’t change to shut them down, then the auditor’s office under Republican authority started asking questions.”
Politifact recently examined Faber’s claim, and gave it a rating of “mostly false” due the education department’s role in deciding “to require e-schools to provide student log-in data.”
Unsurprisingly, Space’s campaign jumped on the finding.
“By attempting to mislead Ohio voters and the media, Keith Faber is proving himself to be a creator of Ohio’s broken political system who will say or do anything to get elected,” Space’s press release reads.
Other claims revolve around the influence of political contributions received by Faber, especially funds given by the pay-day lending industry. A separate FBI investigation into former Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger about potential misuse of similar contributions began earlier this year.
Space says the contributions convinced Faber to ignore a bill regulating the pay-day lending industry. Faber said campaign contributions don’t influence his policy, and if they do, then Space has to worry about his own hypocrisy when it comes to donations from teacher’s unions and his stance on charter schools.
“The millions of dollars I raised is far less than the money Zack Space has raised. None of them expected or received any special treatment,” Faber said. “People give to me because of the issues and the things I believe in.
“Mr. Space can’t say the same thing about his teachers’ unions or other out-of-state donors. It’s tough for him to argue about campaign donors when 40 percent of his filing came from out-of-state interests.”
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.