An audit conducted by the state of Ohio says a now closed online charter school inflated how much time students were engaged in learning activities by failing to account for long periods of online inactivity.
The Columbus Dispatch reports that State Auditor Dave Yost has referred the audit of the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) to the U.S. Attorney’s office and Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien for possible criminal prosecution.
Yost's audit also found that the ECOT provided no documentation to show students that were engaged in learning during the time claimed for payment.
The audit says ECOT did not submit information to the Ohio Department of Education that detailed what students were doing during the time that they were counted as being online. The audit also criticized the education department for being satisfied with ECOT’s claims of student engagement.
“By withholding information, ECOT misled state regulators at the Department of Education, and ECOT was paid based on that information," Yost says. "I believe this may rise to a criminal act."
Yost also is ordering three for-profit companies owned by ECOT founder Bill Lager or his daughter to repay the school nearly $250,000 for improperly spending taxpayer money on political attack ads.
Yost’s investigation concluded that ECOT officials used Altair Learning Management, the school’s management company, IQ Innovations, the school’s software provider, and Third Wave Communications, the school’s video production company, in an attempt to hide the source of payment for attack ads last summer aimed at the state's education department.
As ECOT battled the department both in public and the courts, it launched a television ad campaign that urged the department to keep ECOT open and accused the department of wanting to end school choice and not caring about ECOT students.
ECOT, formerly the largest charter school in Ohio, collected about $1 billion of state funding since its inception in 2000. It was shut down by its sponsor in January.