Auditor candidate proposes audit of all for-profit charter schools

Democratic auditor candidate Zack Space says that if elected, he’ll audit all of Ohio’s for-profit charter schools and that he’ll take a thorough look back at the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow — a politically connected operation that collapsed in a wave of scandal earlier this year.

Space, a former congressman from Dover, plans to create a Stop Charter Abuse and Malfeasance, or “SCAM,” Unit.

“The for-profit charter school scam is the largest political scandal in Ohio’s history, affecting all 88 Ohio counties and virtually every single taxpayer,” Space said in a written statement. “A generation of Ohio children have witnessed dwindling support for public schools at the hands of for-profit charter school operators, who have siphoned billions from public education.”

The issue of charter schools is likely to play a big role in this year’s elections.

They’re not supposed to be run with an eye toward turning a profit, but some — including ECOT — are run by for-profit management companies. In ECOT’s case, founder Bill Lager turned a handsome profit and directed $2 million in campaign contributions to officeholders, overwhelmingly Republicans.

ECOT collected upward of $1 billion in taxpayer money since its founding in 2000 — and the Ohio Department of Education is seeking to recoup $80 million of that due to overinflated attendance reports to the state that provided the school millions is shouldn’t have received. An online-only school, ECOT has had difficulty showing that its students participated in the state-minimum amount of educational activity once they logged on to their computer.

Current Auditor Dave Yost, a Republican, has referred ECOT’s recent activities to law enforcement for investigation and possible prosecution. The FBI also is said to be investigating activities related to the failed school.

In his proposal released Tuesday, Space wants to look back through all the years prior to 2015 to try to determine whether the school was bilking taxpayers at the same time officials associated with it were doling out political dollars. He wants to conduct similar checks of Ohio’s other for-profit charter schools. In addition, Space wants to evaluate the procedures of the auditors office to see if they’ve been adequate to catch cheating charters.

Yost and other GOP statewide candidates — Attorney General Mike DeWine and Sen. Frank LaRose — have announced that they were donating their ECOT-related contributions to charity or to other charter schools. Space’s opponent in the auditor’s race, Rep. Keith Faber, R-Celina, last month said he also would donate the $36,000 he received.

Faber last month claimed that he championed reforms that brought down ECOT, but the watchdog site Politifact rated that claim “mostly false”.

Far from bringing down ECOT, Faber enabled it, Space said.

“Faber used his influence to defang and derail charter school reform legislation. Most recently, as President of the Ohio Senate in 2016, Faber killed a bill that would have more aggressively regulated for-profit charter schools like ECOT,” he said.

Faber denied the accusation.

“Keith Faber adequately oversaw ECOT with the information he was given in the legislature, similarly to how the Democrats in office from 2007-2011 operated throughout the time Zack Spaces wants to look back on,” his campaign said. “The legislature is not the enforcement entity of government. When Keith became aware of charter school areas that needed reformed, he and his Republican colleagues in the House, Senate, Auditor’s office, Attorney General’s office and Department of Education worked to find legislative fixes, putting an end to ECOT and it’s abuse.”

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