You may recall that ECOT has been working hard to win the Worst Cyber School In The World medal, which is no small achievement in a very crowded field. The Columbus Dispatch has been following these guys for over a decade (you can find the bulk of their coverage collected here). If we go back to 2006, we find folks questioning the then-fledgling school's reporting of its enrollment and the quality of its program. The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow was, according the Newark superintendent, “failing to meet even minimum standards of operation.”
|Caption courtesy of Plunderbund. I see no reason to disgaree|
The continued lodging of those complaints was not a small story-- ECOT became the tenth largest school district in the state. And ECOT's owner, William Lager was ready to deliver a master class on how to use charter schools to line your own pockets. ECOT, owned by William Lager, bought its curriculum from IQ Innovations, a company owned by William Lager. The day-to-day management of ECOT was farmed out to Altair Learning Management, a company owned by William Lager.
Not that Lager was keeping all that money for himself. In the years 2011-2015 (the only ones made available to researchers), Lager wrote 121 checks totaling $984,302 to various friendly Ohio politicians. Plunderbund tracked Lager's giving back to 2000 (ECOT's origin) and discovered a staggering total over $2 million! Lager is also a member of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s Digital Learning Now, another reformy advocacy group that quietly folded its tents in 2015
That may help explain the continued survival of a school the New York Times called out for having the highest dropout rate in the nation. ECOT has been nothing if not feisty in its responses; in 2016, when the state demanded the chance to audit actual attendance at the cyber school, ECOT counter-sued, arguing that its 2003 deal with the state only required them to offer 920 hours of education-- not make sure that anyone was actually attending the 920 hours.
Its protests were in vain. The state determined that in 2015-2016, the school billed the state for 15,000 students, pocketing $106 million. The state of Ohio determined that only 6,300 students were active participants in the on line "school." ECOT owed the state $60 million.
Lager fought back hard. He has appealed the rulings all the way to Ohio's Supreme Court; they were not helpful. . He made sad noises about how he'd have to lay people off, and that paying back the money he stole from the state would threaten the viability of his fake business (I'm paraphrasing). Critics pointed out that Lager's huge profit margins could take it, and the Plain Dealer found the school had $17 million in cash reserves against the $21 million annual payment to Lager's companies. In perhaps the ballsiest move of all, ECOT bought tv time for an ad to raise public support for non-repayment. That's right-- Lager spent taxpayer money to try to avoid giving back taxpayer money.The Oho State Auditor told him to knock it off.
With no friends in the legal system, it might seem that Lager and ECOT were finally doomed.
According to yesterday's Dispatch, Lager has a new plan:
ECOT, the online charter giant one study found produced more dropouts than any other school in the nation, is moving into a new line of business — “dropout recovery.”
Dropout recovery schools face looser reporting standards. Changing status might get ECOT some space from the heavy hand of state inquiry, and not for nothing, it will also open up a whole new market for the embattled cyber school. Certainly it puts the school in the company of other schools with an execrable graduation rate. In 2014, the Akron Beacon Journal reported that Ohio's dropout recovery schools were doing such a bad job that they gave Ohio the only worsening dropout rate in the country. If that is still the case, ECOT may have finally found a field in which it will not stand out as being the absolute worst.
Last year, State Auditor Dave Yost found attendance rates at the state’s dropout-recovery charters were horrible: only a third of students showed up, according to a surprise headcount. Auditors also found between 0 to 50 percent of students had showed up for class at the 14 dropout-recovery schools visited, for an average of 34 percent.
ECOT has been running about 36%. So, winning?
Most importantly, of course, this will allow Lager to keep the gravy train running by scamming the taxpayers of Ohio. Tell me that one again about how the invisible hand of the free market will clear away the bad charter schools?