By Editorial Board
While debate continues over the way in which the online charter school Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow squandered Ohio taxpayer money and failed the young Ohioans it was supposed to be teaching, there can't be any debate over what the ECOT mess has taught Ohio's taxpayers:
Money talks at the Statehouse.
At every turn in the regulatory road, ECOT's mainly Republican enablers looked the other way because, in effect, that's what they were paid to do - legally, through campaign donations.
In the wake of ECOT's closure last Thursday, abruptly forcing 12,000 students to find other schools, those Statehouse relationships cannot disrupt Ohio's efforts to recoup tens of millions of dollars the state says ECOT and at least two affiliated firms still owe for overstated enrollments. (ECOT is fighting the clawbacks before the Ohio Supreme Court.)
The Columbus Dispatch recently reported that ECOT and founder Bill Lager donated more than $2.1 million to the campaigns of Ohio politicians and political organizations over two decades. The top amounts: $174,500 to the Ohio Republican Party; $147,799 to the Ohio House's Republican caucus; $125,707 to the state Senate's Republican caucus; and $95,000 to the Ohio Democratic Party.
Key legislators also were rewarded, including former Republican House Speaker Bill Batchelder ($55,000); current Republican Speaker Clifford Rosenberger ($36,843); and former Republican Senate President Keith Faber, now running for state auditor ($34,013). When the Batchelder Co. lobbying firm was formed by two of Batchelder's top staffers after Batchelder left office at the end of 2014, ECOT was one of its first clients.
The Dispatch also reported that Republican Gov. John Kasich's campaign received $30,000 in ECOT-related contributions. Then there's Ohio Auditor Dave Yost, now a Republican candidate for state attorney general, whose campaign coffers were enriched by at least $29,000 from Lager and other ECOT-affiliated individuals over the years, cleveland.com reported three months ago.
Fortunately for Ohio taxpayers, the Kasich administration and Yost converted to ECOT accountability. But in Ohio's GOP-run legislature, lawmakers didn't want to derail the gravy train. So not only didn't they act, but, too often, they tried to put up roadblocks to tougher state oversight. That cynical choice has penalized not just taxpayers and charter school interests but now ECOT's displaced pupils. It's time the adults in the state legislature acted as such in making sure ECOT and its affiliated businesses repay every penny owed.
About our editorials: Editorials express the view of the editorial board of cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer -- the senior leadership and editorial-writing staff. As is traditional, editorials are unsigned and intended to be seen as the voice of the news organization.
Link to original post: