ECOTs poor performance is nothing new to those who have been paying attention, but the criticism coming from the Dispatch is.ECOT now has more students than Canton, Dayton, Dublin or Westerville schools. It is the state’s 10th-largest district. And growth came for ECOT despite its consistently low state report-card results: It ranks among the worst-performing schools in the state. “The growth has been huge,” said Aaron Churchill, who is Ohio research director for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. It has offices in Columbus and Dayton and sponsors charters but criticizes weak oversight and poor-quality schools. “There are clearly a lot of questions about the quality of the education they’re putting out. I’d be curious to know why parents are selecting it.” ECOT’s tax revenue grew in step with its enrollment, to $112.7 million, 90 percent of which is funded by the state. Charter schools are funded with tax dollars but often are privately run. According to a state financial audit made public last week, ECOT paid $21.4 million last year to the two for-profit companies Lager formed to serve the school — nearly one-fifth of the school’s total revenue. IQ Innovations, Lager’s software firm, sells the IQity online-learning platform to ECOT as well as to other schools and districts elsewhere in the country. Altair Learning Management is Lager’s school-management firm, and it oversees ECOT’s day-to-day business, including hiring and firing.
Plunderbund has some suggestions to reform ECOT
There's some pretty good ideas there. But we're skeptical any meaningful change is going to come. Ohio is at a crossroads with charter schools. We can either have a smaller number of higher performing schools ran by non-profit sponsors, or we can continue to have a for-profit low performing wild west. Any sensible person would ick the former, but sensible people aren't plied with hundreds of thousands of dollars to think otherwise.
- Change The Leadership: It’s evident, based on the long history of underachievement at ECOT, that new leadership is needed. We recommend that the Governor create a commission to replace the existing ECOT school board. In addition to the school board, ECOT’s management company, Altair Learning, which has received over $56 million dollars over the past 14 years, has demonstrated no proven ability to improve the learning environment in order to improve the graduation rate, so should be fired immediately.
- Change The Curriculum: Bolstering the case that the school’s contract with Altair Learning should be terminated immediately is the management company’s adoption of IQ Innovations as the sole provider of an online curriculum. In FY14, IQ Innovations was paid $17.3 million for providing the curriculum for the 6th straight year, upping their total compensation to $69,846,154. Spending just shy of $70 million on a curriculum that is resulting in students demonstrating significantly below expected growth (based on Ohio’s value-added measures) is a gross misuse of public dollars and should cease immediately. Six years of low growth, low achievement, and low graduation rates is more than enough to demonstrate that the curriculum is wholly ineffective at obtaining the desired outcomes.
- Open The Books: State Auditor Dave Yost should be called on to immediately conduct a multi-year and comprehensive review of ECOT’s financial operations. With Altair Learning and IQ Innovations having the same principal owner (William Lager, also the founder of the school), Ohio’s taxpayers need to be assured that the contracts between ECOT and the two companies followed all appropriate laws surrounding the use of public monies and any and all contracts were bid appropriately. In addition, Yost needs to conduct a multi-year investigation into ECOT’s attendance and grading practices to ensure that all enrollment numbers have been reported with the highest integrity as it is these self-reported figures that dictate the allocation of taxpayer dollars to ECOT (and away from other school districts).
- Parent Takeover: ECOT should be immediately subjected to a parent takeover provision in state law and a non-partisan entity, say StudentsFirst, should be empowered to help coordinate the effort. ECOT will be required to notify all parents of the opportunity, with StudentsFirst serving to help organize the interested parties.
- Break It Up: In order to best facilitate a parent takeover and manage the district more effectively, ECOT should be broken up from one large, single school, into regional entities or sub-districts, each of would then be eligible for a takeover by parents, who could then bring in their own management company or more effective charter school organization.
Back to the dispatch piece again
The Dispatch understates the largesse of Lager. We took at look at the campaign finance reports, published on the Secretary of States website (which inexplicably only go back to 2009)And ECOT’s founder, Lager, has spent at least $1.13 million on Ohio campaigns in the past five years alone. Lager could not be reached for comment, and his spokesman said he couldn’t reach him, either. That’s more — on Ohio politics, anyway — than was spent by David Brennan, the well-known Akron charter entrepreneur who lobbies heavily on behalf of his White Hat schools group. During the same time period, Brennan donated about $820,000, according to campaign-donation records kept by the Ohio secretary of state. For the past three years, Lager has funneled more than $200,000 per year to mostly Republican officeholders, including William G. Batchelder of Medina, the outgoing speaker of the Ohio House. The largest single donations went to the Ohio Republican Party. Political contributions also were made through Lager’s two privately held companies. Since 2009, IQ Innovations has sent more than $154,000 to Ohio political candidates and groups. Altair’s contributions totaled about $38,000.