ICYMI: IG Report on IQ Innovations Contract Is “Disappointment,” “Missed Mr. Lager by Several Miles”

In case you missed it… An Ohio Inspector General report released “as the governor heads out the door” failed to “pursue the stench emanating from the intersection of contract awards and generous campaign contributions” in examining how a company owned by ECOT founder Bill Lager landed a lucrative state contract — and kept getting paid millions, despite concerns about the company’s performance.

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper has called on Inspector General Randall Meyer to release any documents, interviews or other investigatory records from this probe, so they can be provided to the FBI, which has already been looking into Lager’s political giving.

KEY HIGHLIGHTS:

From the Akron Beacon Journal editorial board, “An epilogue to the ECOT scandal”:

  • Did William Lager, the founder of the now defunct Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, have in mind another public cash cow? That question hovered over an investigation launched by the Ohio Office of Inspector General four years ago. On the Friday after Christmas, the office finally issued its findings. The result is a disappointment, the investigation more about bureaucratic lines of authority than whether employees faced retaliation for questioning the quality of the work delivered by a Lager company.

  • Concerns surfaced about whether IQ Innovations was performing up to expected standards or earning the more than $5 million in state money flowing its way.

  • One employee went to the inspector general with a complaint that he and others faced retaliation for blowing the whistle on the poor work of IQ Innovations.

  • …the report cites an earlier investigation by Ohio State in which “three Ohio State employees conveyed credible information that they faced significant retaliation after questioning the performance of IQ.”

  • Yet the inspector general essentially stops there, arguing that further pursuit would take the office beyond the scope of its authority. Too bad, because it so happens the man in charge of developing the clearinghouse was John Conley, a former Lager consultant appointed by Kasich to serve as vice chancellor of educational technology. Then, there is the eventual abandoning of iLearnOhio, the project proving a bust.

  • Add to all this the Lager track record of bilking the state. The circumstances surrounding the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow amount to a mammoth scandal, hundreds of millions of dollars going to the online charter school operation even though it rated among the worst performers. For years, Republicans in charge at the Statehouse looked the other way, as political money from Lager poured into party and candidate coffers.

  • Two convenient weeks after the election in November, Dave Yost, the state auditor and soon-to-be attorney general, issued a report revealing just how high in the Department of Education the effort went to doctor the scores of poor-performing online charter schools. Yost has his own history of warm ties with ECOT.

  • Obviously, the sums involved in the iLearn Ohio project are much smaller. Still, the principle of public accountability holds. At one point, the governor described as “political” the efforts of state school board members to see an independent investigation of the doctoring allegations. Now it appears that political more aptly applies to the inspector general report. An effort was made but hardly the necessary and probing one, its release coming as the governor heads out the door.

  • Did Lager seek a cash cow? The investigation doesn’t offer much to indicate he did not.

From the Toledo Blade’s Tom Troy, “ECOT report arrived too late to impact election”:

  • OHIO’S inspector general late last month completed a long-awaited report on a complaint potentially implicating Bill Lager, the founder and power-behind-the-throne at the former Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow.

  • It missed Mr. Lager by several miles and found only one instance of wrongdoing — an Ohio State University employee who should have been employed by the Ohio Department of Higher Education and was allowed to resign from one and start working at the other.

  • Had the report — which took about three years to complete — come out just a couple of months earlier, it might have had an effect on the elections for governor, attorney general, state auditor, and maybe a few others.

  • The report, by Inspector General Randall Meyer, found “credible” evidence that there had been some retaliation against employees who complained that a company owned by Mr. Lager and working for Ohio State University and the ODHE (which is advised by the Ohio Board of Regents) was not operating as planned, and it was costing the state millions of dollars.

  • But, unfortunately, the IG’s office can’t pursue it any further because that would require digging into the Board of Regents, and that’s beyond their mandate.

  • The report has to do with the $5 million paid to Mr. Lager’s company, IQ Innovations, to manage a clearinghouse of online instructional materials and textbooks, beginning in 2009.

  • Unspoken in the investigation is that Mr. Lager had made political contributions to Gov. John Kasich, and that Mr. Kasich’s appointee as chancellor, Jim Petro, had canceled a pre-existing contract to supply the services and hired Mr. Lager’s company instead.

  • The case investigated by Mr. Meyer did not directly involve ECOT, but it danced around the edges, without ever directly naming ECOT or Mr. Lager.

  • Rather than pursue the stench emanating from the intersection of contract awards and generous campaign contributions, the inspector general chose to drill down into the less political issue of bureaucratic overlap between the Regents and Ohio State University.

  • The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow online charter school was established in 2000 and was supposed to herald an exciting new experiment in the delivery of education.

  • What it ended up as was shorthand for educational malpractice in Ohio. The online school had more than 15,000 students at the peak of its 18 years in existence.

  • Years of complaints about ECOT’s funding arrangements came to a head in 2016, when the state education department decided to apply a new interpretation of state law requiring that online charter schools prove that students were “participating” in their education the requisite 920 hours a year.

  • Unable to prove such participation (despite its banks of computers), ECOT was ordered to return $80 million to cover its overstated enrollment for a two-year period. ECOT didn’t have the money so in early 2018 it closed its doors, dumping 12,000 students on the street.

  • ECOT’s case was expected to have a big impact in the 2018 statewide elections. Gov.-elect Mike DeWine, Lt. Gov.-elect Jon Husted, Attorney General-elect Dave Yost, and Auditor-elect Keith Faber — then candidates — all had reason to fear a full-blown ECOT scandal, but they were spared.

  • ECOT was a disaster for public and charter school education in Ohio. It tainted the state’s charter-school experiment, and it sucked needed funds away from schools that were doing their best to provide a well-rounded education.

  • Ohio Democratic Chairman David Pepper called Mr. Meyer’s report a “post-election whitewash.” And he said Mr. Yost’s report amounted to “taking out the trash.”

  • Mr. Pepper suggested Mr. Meyer forward all the documents he has accumulated to the FBI, which is looking into Mr. Lager’s patterns of political contributions. Possibly there will be findings from the FBI that will affect future elections.

READ MORE:

Toledo Blade: “ECOT report arrived too late to impact election

Akron Beacon Journal: “An epilogue to the ECOT scandal

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