Thursday, January 11, 2018

If ECOT Closes, It Will Be Because It Failed Accountants, Not Kids

There is certainly a buzz about the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow now. The Columbus Dispatch reported late yesterday that ECOT’s sponsor – the Educational Service Center of Lake Erie West – has decided to drop the school from its portfolio, which means the school may close by next week.

And while I’ve seen this action hailed as an “about time” moment, I want to remind everyone why the ESC decided to drop the school. Is it because ECOT can’t graduate even 4 out of 10 kids and contributed more dropouts than any other school in the nation?


Could it be because since Ohio went to an A-F report card 46 of the school’s 53 Ohio Report Card grades were Fs?


According to the Dispatch story, it’s “due to the online school’s growing financial troubles.”

Frankly, I don’t get it. ECOT’s financial woes, I mean. 

Hear me out. 

Even after ECOT loses its monthly, $2.5 million repayment (because it billed taxpayers for $60 million more than it should have in the 2015-2016 school year), the state pays ECOT $4,831.30. That’s more than the state pays to educate kids in 265 of Ohio’s 613 school districts.

Yet ECOT is a virtual school. So no buses, janitors, lunch ladies, etc. So the school could pay the 597 teachers it had in the 2016-2017 school year their average $37,527 salary, provide brand-new MacBook Pros from Apple at $1,299 each and still clear about $20 million, or 34 percent.

So what’s the problem?

Especially since it was also reported that ECOT laid off about 350 staff this year. Assuming 300 of those were teachers, that would leave ECOT with a 53 percent margin after paying its teachers and providing new MacBook Pros to every one of its students (which it does NOT do, I might add).

Now, according to state audits, William Lager – ECOT’s founder, who runs the for-profit Altair Management, which runs the school – collects about 4 percent of the funding the school receives from the state. Even with the lower margins, though, that still leaves ECOT with about $16 million to pay its management and software people.

Whatever the case, it’s clear ECOT has utterly failed its kids for years. Yet only when it fails the bottom lines for the adults involved does the school sponsor care enough to shut down this operation.

But this isn’t unusual. Of the 260 closed charters in Ohio, most have closed for financial viability. Closures for academic reasons are relatively rare.

Perhaps they should become less so.

I guess, though, in a way, we’re seeing the free market answer to education with the ECOT situation. Just as when a restaurant can’t pay its bills, it shuts down, regardless of whether it's great or bad at preparing food. 

Likewise in the free market education world, a school’s success is predicated on its ability to pay adults. Not educate kids. While this is becoming less so around the country, and even in Ohio to some extent, the fundamental fact remains that in much of Ohio’s Charter School World, the adults are running an operation for the adults, not the kids.

And that, my friends, is a crime.

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