While the scandal surrounding the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) left thousands of students in the lurch, we are now learning that the price tag for the debacle is in the multi-millions – and that’s taxpayer money.
According to the think tank Innovation Ohio, new data shows that $591 million went to the online charter school over the past six years – money that was shuffled from local districts to ECOT.
Locally, the price tag is the biggest in Trumbull and Mahoning counties with some districts like Youngstown and Warren forking over $4.1 million and $5.6 million respectively. But they are not alone, Girard, Howland and Newton Falls are in the $1 to $2 million category, and even smaller districts like Lowellville had $21.233 of its budget trimmed by ECOT and Columbiana had $3,894.
“Each of those dollars are resources that could be used in the classroom to support students, to get more technology in the classroom,” said Larry Ellis, president of the Youngstown Education Association. You are talking about poor areas like Youngstown, even basic supplies to support students in the classroom.”
This is another piece of the growing ECOT scandal that has affected taxpayers in every corner of the state. The numbers show that all but six of Ohio’s 613 school districts lost state funding to ECOT, according to Innovation Ohio.
In a time when local districts are strapped for cash, educators and school officials are feeling the devastation the lost funding has brought to their districts.
“This has been going on for 18 years. People that have fudged the records. People that have turned their heads need to be accountable, whether it’s criminally or politically,” said State Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-33rd District.
According to an audit by the state, ECOT failed to deduct time students were inactive online and no proof to show students engaged in learning during the time it claimed for payment. ECOT officials are also accused of using taxpayer dollars given to them by the state of Ohio based on full-time student enrollment to pay off employees for their silence.
Ohio Auditor David Yost has referred the matter to the U.S. Attorney, the FBI, the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Education, and Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien.
Yost said previously that it may not be possible to calculate exactly how much money ECOT has bilked from the state over the years, and while the state attempts to recoup some of the millions of dollars it is owed for overpayments to the school, it is the students who never graduated that lost the most.