Ohio voters have more than a billion reasons to care about the ECOT scandal.
Over a 17-year period, state officials reached into your pockets, removed $1 billion, and allowed much of it to be poured down a rat hole formerly known as the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow.
Consider it another way: While state officials were underfunding local school districts, they were sending upwards of $100 million a year to a charter school that will be forever remembered as an epic failure.
As a result, mothers and fathers across Ohio had to raise their own property taxes to provide children they love with an adequate education.
Nothing about what happened is forgivable.
Nevertheless, as of this writing, here’s the ECOT report card:
Number of people sent to prison: Zero.
Number charged with a crime: Zero.
If a price is ever to be paid for the biggest scandal in Ohio history, it will happen Nov. 6, when voters elect an entirely new lineup of state officeholders.
By the time the administration of Republican Gov. John Kasich effectively forced ECOT to close its doors in January, Ohio’s largest online charter school was regarded as perhaps the worst of its kind in the country.
ECOT was reimbursed based on student attendance. And for most of those 17 years, the state’s lack of attendance-taking safeguards made Ohio and its elected leaders a national laughingstock.
The relentless, albeit long overdue, pursuit of justice against ECOT by the Kasich administration and the state education department resulted in four winning court rulings — including a decisive blow from the Ohio Supreme Court.
When the ECOT matter got before the courts, all was lost for the school and the officeholders who colluded to protect it. Those rulings might enable the state to claw back upwards of $80 million paid ECOT for unverifiable attendance.
ECOT made its founder, William Lager, enormously wealthy. Charter schools like ECOT are nonprofits, but the for-profit companies that run and supply them are often cash cows.
In return for the $1 billion that went to ECOT and Lager’s companies, Lager and his flunkies sent $2.5 million back to the elected state officials who did what they could to shield ECOT from nosy state regulators.
Conventional wisdom holds the Republican candidates with the most political vulnerability to the ECOT scandal are: Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, the GOP candidate for governor; State Auditor Dave Yost, the party’s candidate for attorney general; and State Rep. Keith Faber, the former Ohio Senate president and now Republican nominee for auditor.
Only after that vulnerability became apparent did the three GOP candidates begin to talk and act tough about ECOT’s failure and the monumental consequences for taxpayers.
In terms of conduct that was downright villainous, no current elected official in the state did more to protect ECOT — and harm taxpayers — than Faber, who is opposed in the race for state auditor by former congressman and Tuscarawas County lawyer Zack Space.
As Senate president, Faber and former House Speaker Bill Batchelder were viewed in Columbus as probably ECOT’s best friends in state government — busily maneuvering in the shadows to keep the ECOT watchdogs at bay.
In early 2016, State Sen. Joe Schiavoni, a Youngstown-area Democrat, introduced a commendable bill to strengthen attendance reporting laws for online charters like ECOT.
The proper place to consider Schiavoini’s proposal was the Education Committee, chaired by Sen. Peggy Lehner, a Dayton-area Republican.
But Lehner is honest and actually cares about kids, so Faber sent the bill to the Finance Committee, where he knew it would die.
After ECOT closed, Faber shamelessly tried to take credit, a brazen claim found to be “mostly false” by the nonpartisan truth-seeker, PolitiFact.
It’s time people paid a price for this.
Brent Larkin was The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s editorial director from 1991 until his retirement in 2009.