The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) is the largest charter school in the state of Ohio. The online school is easily the largest charter school in Ohio and would be ranked as the 12th largest school district in the state. ECOT received over $88 million in state funding for the 2012-13 school year and funding is expected to jump to over $92 million this school year. On the latest report cards released by the Ohio Department of Education, ECOT continues to rank below all of the 8 large urban schools that are often-criticized by legislators and in the media for their “sub-par” performance. For graduation rate, a key indicator for the long-term success of a school/district, ECOT’s 4-year graduation rate is a paltry 35.3 percent, while their 5-year graduation rate of 37.8 percent, which is only slightly higher, was still over 25 percentage points worse than the lowest urban school district, Cleveland, which checked in at 63.3 percent. While we now see the legislature writing laws to specifically regulate the Cleveland and Columbus districts, the charter school laws that apply to ECOT continue to remain more lax. And while the data on performance for this school of over 13,000 students is perpetually bad, the financial games played by the school’s owner/operator are even worse. ECOT founder William Lager’s history of political donations goes back to the year 2000 and his donations have increased significantly over the years. According to the Ohio Secretary of State’s Campaign Finance website Lager’s donations are as follows: Over the last four years, Lager’s average annual donation amount is $180,177.62. For some perspective, the Toledo Public School District recently hired a new superintendent to a five-year contract. Toledo consistently outperforms ECOT and serves nearly twice as many students, yet the new Toledo superintendent will make an annual salary of $175,000—$5,000 less than Lager donates to political campaigns on an annual basis. How can Lager afford to donate so much? It’s because of the contracts he has set up as the sole primary owner of the for-profit companies that have a monopoly on the services that his non-profit charter school, ECOT, contracts for administrative management and delivery of curriculum. The books for these private companies being operated from taxpayer dollars are hidden, but thanks to reports from the Ohio Auditor of State, we can look at the overall total dollars that go from the state’s coffers to the companies Lager owns as they get funneled through ECOT: William Lager’s private companies, of which he is the primary owner, have now received over $104 million dollars in the past 13 years –an average of over $8.3 million per year and an average of $15 million PER YEAR over the last three years. While Ohio’s public schools are pinching pennies due to funding cuts, Lager’s company’s fees are increasing at a rate of 15 percent per year. At the current rate, Lager’s for-profit companies will receive over $20,000,000 for FY14. At a time when school performance is under such scrutiny, how is it that Lager continues to rake in such large amounts of taxpayer dollars for annual academic performance that is abysmal at best? The answer to that lies in current state laws that are being pushed by the Kasich administration that are promoting greater expansion of charter schools such as ECOT. Govenor John Kasich has cut overall funding to education in his budgets while the funding that goes to charter schools such as ECOT has continually increased. No doubt this is also helped by Lager’s long-time relationship with Governor Kasich. When Lager introduced Governor Kasich as the commencement speaker at the 2011 ECOT graduation ceremony, Lager said, “Governor Kasich I’ve known for literally many, many years. You will find no one more committed to the ECOT idea than Governor Kasich … With his help we see nothing but clear sailing.” During his speech Kasich said, “Thank God for Bill Lager.” But if Governor Kasich is truly interested in improving Ohio’s education system as he recently claimed to be during a January 23 speech at the Wood County Republican Party's Lincoln Day Dinner, then he should be taking corrective action against William Lager, not continuing to praise and fund him, because ultimately, all signs point to the fact that should be considered solely responsible for the dismal academic performance of the ECOT program. First, according to the latest state audit, Altair Management Company ($3.5 million/year) has a big impact on the performance of the school: “ECOT contracts with Altair Learning Management I, Inc. (Altair) for a variety of services including management of personnel and human resources, the program of instruction, purchasing, strategic planning, public relations, financial reporting, recruiting, compliance issues, budgets, contracts and equipment and facilities.” Lager and Altair Management are responsible for hiring, firing and the entire program of instruction for the school and have been for over a decade. In this area, based on the continued poor performance of the school, Altair should be evaluated as a failure. The management company has been unable to turn the school’s performance around despite complete control over the school’s administrative functions. Second, and again as spelled out in the state audit, Lager’s IQ Innovations Company ($14 million/year) is the full provider of “curriculum services for ECOT students.” Based on the school’s continually sub-par report card grades from the Ohio Department of Education, the online curriculum that ECOT is delivering via IQ Innovations must also be considered a failure. This is doubly damning to Lager’s companies as his IQ Innovations is the sole curriculum provider as chosen by his Altair Management Company. If ECOT was truly about providing a top-notch educational experience for Ohio’s children, then the ECOT Board of Directors would have independently come to the decision that Altair Management has failed in their management of the school and, subsequently, the school needed a “great” curriculum that was not being delivered by IQ Innovations. On the Ohio Department of Education’s local school report card, based on criteria established by the Kasich administration to judge schools’ academic performance, ECOT received an F. But alas, ECOT is not about educating Ohio’s children, it’s about fleecing Ohio’s taxpayers and lining the pockets of the school’s founder, William Lager, Ohio charter schools’ first hundred million dollar man. For that, ECOT, Lager, and the Kasich Administration receive an A+.

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