Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Asking me not to overbill you means you hate children

I always like to preface these stories of education reform abuse with a reminder that the vast majority of people on both sides of this issue are motivated by a sincere desire to improve the lives of children. Unfortunately, this assumption of goodwill is often very much lacking in the reform movement. Instead, movement reformers all too often assume that people who oppose them are motivated by self-interest, fear of change, etc., while (and this is the really dangerous part) their allies are as dedicated and sincere as they are.

As a result, the movement has been defenseless against truly sleazy operators. In this recent case from Ohio, a major political donor set up an enterprise that allowed him to divert tens of millions of dollars to his side businesses. Then, when caught overbilling the state, he fell back on the human shield defense, running ads that suggested that attempts to make him pay back the money he owes are somehow attacks on Ohio's children (with added chutzpah points for doing it with taxpayer money).

From a report in the Columbus Dispatch by Bill Bush.

Even after ECOT announced that it will lay off 350 workers within weeks, the internet charter school continues to use taxpayer dollars for a barrage of television ads attacking the Ohio Department of Education’s decision to claw back $60.4 million because of the charter’s poor attendance records.

“The Ohio Department of Education wants to end school choice and stop parents from deciding what’s best for their children,” says a former student identified in the ECOT ad as Lionel Morales, a 2017 graduate, in an ad airing in Columbus. The end of the ad is signed “Ohio’s children.”

“That’s why I and the over 36,000 students and alumni of ECOT are hoping our elected leaders fix what’s broken and save our school.”

“Sadly, the Ohio Department of Education says many of us don’t count,” Morales says.

The department said it is ECOT that wasn’t counting how many kids actually participated in classwork after logging in. The department found that ECOT had overbilled the state, invoicing for more than double the number of students it could document.


Even before ECOT turned to the airwaves to fight the state over its funding, the school was a big advertiser. The Dispatch reported in 2015 that ECOT spent $2.27 million on advertising to attract students, about 2 percent of its state tax receipts.

But it is unclear whether a school district can legally spend tax money on political ads to urge the legislature to take action.

In the case of ECOT, if the ad campaign succeeds, the tax revenue spent on it could help protect the profit of ECOT founder William Lager via two for-profit companies, IQ Innovations and Altair Learning Management. According to ECOT’s latest audit, for the 2015-16 school year, the school paid the two firms almost $22 million, or about one-fifth of all the tax revenue the school received. Altair is paid to manage the school, while IQ Innovations provides curriculum software.

By comparison, it spent about $47.2 million on salaries, 43 percent of revenue, the audit states.

Lager is one of Ohio’s largest political donors to the GOP, having rained millions of dollars on Ohio politicians.
By the way, this is not our first post on the good people at ECOT or on Ohio's charter school issues.

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