CINCINNATI -- The founder of the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, an online charter school that closed in January amid a state fraud inquiry, could be forced to repay the state of Ohio almost $200 million in what the attorney general's office claims are misused funds.
According to Ohio state auditor David Yost, ECOT overreported the hours its students spent learning to such an extent that an audit uncovered 60 percent fewer full-time students than the 15,322 the school once claimed. In the process, Yost said, it defrauded Ohio taxpayers to the tune of more than $80 million.
So why does Ohio attorney general Mike DeWine, who hopes to succeed fellow Republican John Kasich as governor in November, want so much more?
ECOT wasn't the only company involved in the scandal, according to a lawsuit DeWine filed Monday. Its CEO, Bill Lager, also ran a pair of for-profit companies -- IQ Innovations and Altair Management -- that performed services for the school and to which ECOT paid at least $199,268,313, according to ECOT's tax filings.
DeWine hopes to recover that money, which would cover "the amounts owed ECOT's creditors," and funnel the remainder into school districts that absorbed ECOT's students when it shut down, according to the lawsuit.
Dealing firmly with the school could have campaign implications for DeWine in addition to financial implications for the state of Ohio. Even before the school shut down, state Democrats accused Republicans of accepting campaign contributions from the shoot and not properly monitoring its use of state funds; in response, the Ohio Republican Party returned about $76,000 in campaign donations from Lager, and many of its members began strong calls for the school to repay the state.
DeWine will face Democrat Richard Cordray, who preceded him as Ohio Attorney General from 2009-2011, at the polls in November.