As ECOT Debacle Explodes, Statewide Republican Candidates Scramble

COLUMBUS — The fallout from the Electronic Classroom Of Tomorrow “Chartergate” scandal continued this week as Republican candidates were pressed to explain more than $130,000 in combined donations linked to the for-profit charter school and the officials’ abysmal record of failed oversight as the e-charter overbilled the state by $80 million (and that’s for only two years of their many years of operation).

“Ohio taxpayers have been bilked out of $80 million because of this mess, thousands of kids and families have been thrown into educational chaos, and it all happened on the watch of Republican politicians like Dave Yost, Keith Faber, Frank LaRose and Robert Sprague,” said Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper. “Now that they’re angling for promotions to statewide office, these Ohio Republicans are making excuses or ducking questions about the campaign contributions they took from ECOT’s founder and his employees at the very moments they were failing to do their jobs.”

The GOP candidate for attorney general, Auditor Dave Yost has given ECOT multiple awards for “excellent record keeping” while taking at least $29,000 in donations from ECOT-affiliated entities. Despite Yost’s claims of “holding ECOT accountable,” Yost’s office failed to crack down on ECOT even after a whistleblower “made allegations that ECOT was cooking its attendance books.”

State Rep. Keith Faber — who is running for auditor — took $34,000 from ECOT affiliates, but he isn’t ready to give back any of those contributions. As Senate President, Faber and his caucus took more than $200,000 from for-profit charter school operators. Even though Faber claimed “(ECOT founder) Bill Lager hasn’t been happy with me for a long time,” Innovation Ohio’s Stephen Dyer today noted that Faber added a “mystery pro-ECOT amendment” to the latest state budget just last year. In 2016, Faber used his position as Senate President to block attempts at oversight of ECOT’s attendance records.

Sen. Frank LaRose, the Republican candidate for Secretary of State, took at least $5,000, and he declined to say whether he would return any of ECOT’s donations.

While Ohio Treasurer candidate Rep. Robert Sprague has not taken any contributions directly linked to ECOT, he has received multiple donations from the Ohio Republican Party and the Ohio House Republican Organizational Committee, which were the top two beneficiaries of ECOT’s largesse. At a news conference yesterday, Sprague provided flimsy excuses for the ECOT disaster.

The Republican top of the ticket also has ECOT-linked contributions, with Mike DeWine receiving more than $12,000, his running mate, Jon Husted, taking in $28,500, and Mary Taylor receiving $22,500. As a legislator, Husted was the prime architect of laws that allowed ECOT to execute its business model with so little transparency or accountability.

“For years, ECOT has been the go-to ATM of the Ohio Republican Party and its leaders. While pocketing those funds, the same officials have not only failed to clamp down on this scandal, they shaped the legal environment that allowed ECOT to get away with this for so long,” Pepper said. “Ohioans need a clean sweep of new leadership into Columbus to finally bring accountability and end these scams once and for all.”