State School Board Votes to Force E-Charter to Reimburse State $60M for Ghost Students

Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow Has Fought Tooth and Nail to Avoid Accountability

COLUMBUS — The State Board of Education today voted overwhelmingly to force the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) — a for-profit e-charter school that the New York Times highlighted as having the worst graduation rate in the country — to repay $60 million that the for-profit e-charter school overbilled Ohio taxpayers during the last school year.

“The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow isn’t a school — it’s a scam, enabled for years by failed Republican leadership,” said Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper. “They have finally been dragged, kicking and screaming, into repaying Ohio taxpayers for the millions they bilked from the state for ‘ghost students.’ The state school board — Democrats and Republicans, elected and appointed members — voted today to force ECOT to give back the money they wrongfully took for students that never actually attended their school. This is just the first step. Now we need the state to audit ECOT for previous years, so we know the full extent of fraudulent payments made to the e-charter school. Finally, ECOT should stop with the lawsuits and stop wasting Ohio tax dollars.”

“The overpayment of $60 million to ECOT is an egregious abuse of taxpayer dollars,” said State Board of Education Member Stephanie Dodd. “Even worse, it was done at the expense of our children.”

Since last summer, ECOT has fought tooth and nail to avoid any accountability. First, it filed suit to avoid an attempt to audit their students’ attendance. After an enrollment audit revealed ECOT overbilled Ohio taxpayers by padding its enrollment numbers with 9,000 “ghost” students, they sued to avoid repaying the millions they owe the state.

Today’s decision follows years of inaction by state officials. In 2016 the Columbus Dispatch revealed that Auditor Dave Yost’s office failed to crack down on ECOT when a whistleblower “made allegations that ECOT was cooking its attendance books.” Instead of conducting an audit of ECOT, Yost’s office negotiated an agreement with the charter school that effectively tied the auditor’s hands from fully examining the allegations.

In January 2016, Yost awarded ECOT his “Auditor of State Award with Distinction,” and Yost spoke at ECOT’s graduation in 2014 and 2015.