Brown Blasts ECOT Settlement, Calls on Sponsor to Pay Back Taxpayers for Cheating Ohioans

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) blasted the settlement announced by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost in which the sponsor of the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), Educational Service Center of Lake Erie West, would only pay a tiny fraction of the money it owes Ohio taxpayers. Brown called on the sponsor to pay Ohioans back the full amount it owes after it cheated taxpayers by misclassifying student enrollment data.

ECOT closed in early 2018 as it was being investigated by the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio state school board for misclassifying student participation. Following its closure, the school’s approximately 12,000 students had to find new schools, causing school districts around the state to scramble to provide education to the influx of students.

“ECOT stole hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars and cheated Ohio students. Today’s settlement is a pittance of what the sponsor owes taxpayers, and they shouldn’t get away with it. Educational Service Center of Lake Erie should pay back Ohioans what they owe, and state officials should hold them accountable until they do. Politicians in Columbus let ECOT off the hook for too long. It’s time for them to finally stand up for taxpayers rather than giving in to ECOT once again,” said Brown.    

For years, ECOT cheated taxpayers without appropriate oversight from state officials. In 2014, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers called Ohio the ‘Wild, Wild West’ of charter schools.

Brown has long led efforts to increase transparency and oversight of Ohio’s charter schools and has worked to hold ECOT accountable and to help Ohio school districts who have been hurt by ECOT’s actions.

In August 2018, Brown introduced legislation to ensure any federal funds recovered from the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) are returned to the school districts that lost them to ECOT in the first place. Since 2000, ECOT has received more than $130 million in federal funding. Brown’s bill, the Putting Students First Actwould require any federal funds the U.S. government might recover from ECOT or other bad actors who misuse education funds be returned to Ohio’s students instead of the U.S. Treasury’s general fund.

In May 2018, Brown wrote to U.S. Department of Education (DOE) Inspector General Kathleen Tighe calling for a prompt investigation into the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) and the for-profit charter school industry. Brown’s letter followed Ohio State Auditor Dave Yost’s release of an audit finding that ECOT withheld critical student data to secure more state and federal funding, which Yost referred to Tighe and DOE. 

In February 2018, following the closure of ECOT, Brown wrote to the Ohio Department of Education and the State Board of Education asking for specific steps Ohio will take to ensure ECOT students can transition to new schools. Brown also pressed state officials to share how the planned to recoup taxpayer dollars from ECOT and its operator, Altair Management.