The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) is the largest charter school in the state of Ohio. The online school is easily the largest charter school in Ohio, is larger than the vast majority of Ohio’s traditional school districts, and received over $88 million in state funding last school year. This year that amount is expected to jump to over $92 million.
On the latest report cards released by the Ohio Department of Education, ECOT continues to rank below all of the 8 large urban schools that are often-criticized by legislators and in the media for their “sub-par” performance.
For graduation rate, a key indicator for the long-term success of a school/district, ECOT’s 4-year graduation rate is a paltry 35.3%, while their 5-year graduation rate of 37.8%, which is only slightly higher, was still over 25 points worse than the lowest urban school district, Cleveland, which checked in at 63.3%. While we now see the legislature writing laws to specifically regulate Cleveland and Columbus more tightly, the charter school laws that apply to ECOT continue to be more lax.
And while the data on performance for this school of 13,836 students (11th largest “district” in the Ohio) is bad enough, the financial games played by the school’s owner/operator are even worse. We wrote a comprehensive piece about ECOT back in 2011, but since then the school has continued to grow and continued to siphon ever larger sums of money away from higher-performing schools.
On December 8, our post, Ohio’s Largest Taxpayer-Funded Charter School, ECOT, Receives Bonus Check, described how the school was up for approval of an additional $2.9 million dollar bonus from Governor Kasich’s Straight A Fund.
On December 10, we posted a follow-up, ECOT Founder Living VERY Well Off Ohio’s School Funding Dollars, where we went into greater detail about the financial games being played and won by ECOT’s Founder, William Lager.
Today, we have another update to the political donations and financial windfall experienced by Lager.
First, Lager’s history of political donations (to Ohio’s legislators, of course) goes back further than we first posted, and his 2013 donations have increased. The new numbers, according to the Ohio Secretary of State’s Campaign Finance website:
Over the last four years, Lager’s average annual donation amount is $180,177.62. For some perspective, the Toledo Public School District recently hired a new superintendent to a five-year contract. Toledo has better performance numbers than ECOT and serves nearly twice as many students, and the new superintendent will make an annual salary of $175,000 — $5,000 LESS than Lager donates on an annual basis!!!
How can Lager afford to donate so much? It’s because of the sweet deals he gets as the owner of the private companies that have a monopoly on the services that his charter school, ECOT, contracts for management and delivery of curriculum. Shortly after our December 10 post, the Ohio Auditor of State released the 2013 audit of ECOT, so we’ve updated our numbers from that post. Here is the money that goes directly from the state of Ohio to Lager’s private companies after being funneled through ECOT:
In addition, the State Controlling Board approved that “bonus” of $2,951,755 to ECOT, of which Lager’s private company, IQ Innovations, will receive $2,725,250.
Why did the Controlling Board unanimously approve this additional funding for the failure of an institution? Perhaps we can cross-check some of the Controlling Board members’ election campaigns with Lager’s political “donations”.
- Controlling Board member Chris Widener: recipient of $27,000 in campaign contributions from Lager
- Controlling Board member Bill Coley: recipient of $20,000 in campaign contributions from Lager
- Controlling Board member Jeff McClain: recipient of $10,000 in campaign contributions from Lager
Add that bonus amount to the above totals and William Lager’s private companies, of which he is the primary owner, have now received over $108 Million dollars in the past 13 years – an average haul to Lager of over $8.3 Million PER YEAR and an average of $15 million PER YEAR over the last three years!!!
And while Ohio’s public schools are are pinching pennies due to funding cuts and most school employees are seeing modest (if any) raises, Lager’s companies fees are increasing at a rate of 15% per year. At this current rate, Lager will see a paycheck of over $23,000,o00 for FY14 (including the Straight A Fund bonus check).
At a time when school performance is under such scrutiny, when state and federal legislators are pushing for teacher pay to be based on student performance, how is it that Lager continues to rake in obscene amounts of taxpayer dollars for continued performance that can, at best, be considered abysmal?
You see, William Lager and his private companies are solely responsible for the performance of ECOT.
First, his Altair Management Company ($3.5 million/year):
ECOT contracts with Altair Learning Management I, Inc. (Altair) for a variety of services including management of personnel and human resources, the program of instruction, purchasing, strategic planning, public relations, financial reporting, recruiting, compliance issues, budgets, contracts, and equipment and facilities.
Lager and Altair are responsible for hiring, firing, and the entire program of instruction for the school and have been for over a decade. In this area, based on the continued poor performance of the school, Altair should be evaluated as a failure. The management company has been unable to turn the school’s performance around despite complete control.
Second, Lager’s IQ Innovations Company ($14 million/year):
ECOT contracts with IQ Innovations, LLC for the purchase of curriculum services for ECOT students.
As we hope is obvious, ECOT’s main promotional feature is its online curriculum. According to the ECOT website:
- A great curriculum is only as good as the way it’s delivered to students, and in the virtual world, delivery must be vibrant yet user-friendly, immediate, and technically sound.
Based on the school’s perpetually low report card grades from the Ohio Department of Education, the online curriculum that ECOT is delivering must also be considered a failure. This is twice as damning to Lager’s companies as IQ Innovations is the curriculum provider as chosen by the Altair Management Company.
If ECOT was truly about providing a top notch educational experience for Ohio’s children, then the ECOT Board of Directors would have independently come to the decision that Altair Management has failed in their management of the school and, subsequently, the school needed a “great” curriculum that was not being delivered by IQ Innovations.
But alas, ECOT is not about educating children, it’s about fleecing Ohio’s taxpayers and making money for the school’s founder, William Lager, Ohio’s first public school hundred-millionaire. For that, ECOT, and Lager’s friends in high places, receive an A+.