Thursday, May 24, 2018

ECOT: The Scandal of All Time

I've been off for about a week. And what a week it's been. ECOT has officially become a criminal investigation. Formerly supportive Republican legislators can't give back their ECOT money fast enough, yet some remain stubbornly reluctant to do so.

In the meantime, the media have correctly identified ECOT and its more than $1 billion boondoggle as a crippling political albatross firmly wrapped around the Ohio GOP's neck.

Added to this is the outrage of the ostentatious auction of former ECOT personal property (including an outrageously opulent chair for founder Bill Lager to sit upon like a throne).

But there is one bit of misinformation floating around out there that I want to address and (hopefully) squash right away. And that is the idea that because Ohio Democrats were in charge of the Governor's mansion and House of Representatives in 2009 and ECOT continued to operate that somehow Ohio Democrats aren't clean on this scandal.

Since I was actually there during the 2009 budget process and was intimately involved, I thought I should clear up some things about what happened about 10 years ago.

It's very simple. Gov. Strickland's budget that year called for a 70 percent cut for Ohio eSchools. That's right. If Gov. Strickland's budget had passed unamended, ECOT funding would have been cut by 70 percent, effectively ending the school 10 years before it actually shut down, which would have saved Ohio taxpayers about $700 million that went to the school since then. Not to mention the lives of thousands of students ECOT failed to graduate.

By the way, of the 3,794 students who actually did graduate ECOT the first year of the 2009 budget, only 109 have college degrees today. Just by way of reference.

However, Ohio Republicans still controlled the Senate during the 2009 budget. I was in those budget negotiations and I can tell you that we were told in no uncertain terms that if the 70 percent cuts stayed in the budget, there would be no budget for the 2009 session -- severely crippling Ohio's potential economic recovery from the Great Recession.

Don't believe me? Here's what he Ohio Association for Public Charter schools said at the time about the ultimate budget package (which did pass with ECOT funding restored, in exchange for our economic recovery and the implementation of the Evidence Based Model of school funding that put us on the path to a constitutional school funding system for the first time in our state's history):
“The Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools is deeply grateful to policy-makers – particularly the Senate Majority leadership team – for preserving charter school funding.”
The next year, 2010, I was up for re-election. A shadowy group spent about $500,000 to defeat me. It was funded by eSchools like ECOT, who funded my opponent that year, Todd McKenney. Their tactics were so outrageous (harassing my family and 5-year-old son at his Trick or Treat trail, for example), the New York Times profiled them.  If we went so easy on eSchools, why was I targeted when, ostensibly, I restored their funding?

Because ECOT and other eSchools knew that I and others like me were onto their scam -- a scam that was allowed to grow exponentially under Gov. John Kasich (who spoke at ECOT's graduation in 2011) until the Ohio Department of Education started asking very basic questions about ECOT's enrollment in 2016 and 2017.

So please, pile on all you want. But do not for a second believe that we didn't try to fix the ECOT problem 10 years ago. Because we did. And Senate Republicans were willing to jeopardize our state's economic recovery, not to mention the funding for the 90 percent of Ohio students not in charter schools, to save this horrible school.

Wonder if they regret that stance today, given the scandal's mushrooming scale?

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