COLUMBUS (WCMH) — ECOT lied again, according to Ohio Auditor of State Dave Yost.
He claims the online charter school artificially inflated its enrollment numbers for the 2016-17 school year.
According to Yost, unlike previous audits, ECOT officials refused to sign a standard document that stated they did not knowingly engage in fraudulent activities.
Thursday’s report comes after what Yost called a unique and critical year in which the school could not claim they were surprised that their funding would be based off of student participation and not just being signed up with the school.
“For the first time, we have documentation that during the 2016-17 school year ECOT knew precisely how much time students were spending on school work,” said Yost.
That’s thanks in large part to software we told you about a couple of weeks ago called ActivTrak, and Yost says the school chose to report data the software does not corroborate.
“Activtrak is the smoking gun,” said Yost. “For the first time we can prove that ECOT submitted information to ODE in order to get paid that it knew to be false when it was submitted.”
“Submitting false information in order to get money to which one is not entitled is fraud, and it may also be a criminal act,” said Yost.
Yost has referred this matter to the U.S. Attorney, the FBI, the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Education, and Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien.
Yost says, ultimately it may not be possible to calculate exactly how much money ECOT has bilked from the state over the years, and while the state attempts to recoup some of the millions of dollars it is owed for overpayments to the school it is the students who never graduated that lost the most.
“ECOT owed them an education and now it can never give it to them, you can’t make that up,” said Yost.
Yost claims the Ohio Department of Education and state lawmakers are to blame for all of this.
He says ODE should not have accepted ECOT’s reported numbers for 2016-17 because they lacked detail, something that is required by ODE guidelines.
He also says, state lawmakers should not have allowed the loopholes ECOT exploited to deceive the state to exist.
According to Yost, no new regulations would have been passed into law and ECOT would still be in operation today if it wasn’t for his office and the work they have done uncovering the bad acts of the school.
Yost described his efforts to get lawmakers to sure up charter school rules as having to drag them kicking and screaming.
After the press conference Yost’s campaign for Attorney General released a statement that he would be giving all money ever donated to him by Bill Lager, the founder of ECOT, to charity.
Keith Faber, who served as Senate President during the years ECOT ran unchecked, and who is running State Auditor also is giving all money donated to him by Bill Lager to charity.
Democrats have made, and plan to continue to make, ECOT a central issue by trying to link those kinds of financial donations to Republican candidates like Yost and Faber, as well as to the Republican Party itself, as a pay to play scheme.
Republicans have held power over much of Ohio’s state government for years and during that time ECOT has been allowed to continue to operate in a way that Yost speculates as morally wrong, but potentially legally above board due to weak state laws.
The majority party has also been responsible for the elimination of a watchdog group that could have caught ECOT sooner had they not been dissolved.
There is no guarantee that the Legislative Office of Education Oversight (LOEO) would have been able to sniff out ECOT’s deceptive practices, but there is a 100% chance of it not finding anything when it no longer existed.
In 2005, LOEO was dissolved when current Lt. Governor Candidate Jon Husted held the leadership position of Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives which voted to eliminate the office.
This will not be the last time ECOT ends up in the news.
An audit of the partial 2017-18 school year it was in operation will be done.
And there is still the ability to look into what exactly the students were doing with their time.
Because ActivTrak logs the name of the window that is open and being viewed on the computer, and all that raw data has been saved and cannot be changed, it could be accessed and studied.
The question remains: what will investigators find? Do we really want to know what they were looking at alone in their homes on laptops paid for by taxpayers?