Days after an anonymous whistleblower said he was asked to inflate ECOT's enrollment number, he has made another accusation about the former online charter school. Progressive policy groups who said they've been in contact with the whistleblower said he was offered money from ECOT in exchange for signing a non-disclosure agreement barring him from disparaging the school.
"This guy wants to fix the system," said Sandy Theis, formerly of Progress Ohio and now advocating for charter school reform. "ECOT has the worst four-year graduation rate in America. ECOT has given almost $3 million in campaign contributions and ECOT uses public money to try to quiet its critics."
The progressive policy groups holding the press conference Monday included Progress Ohio, Innovation Ohio and Common Cause. Members of those groups said non-disclosure agreements were not uncommon with private companies but are nearly unheard of with public entities.
"I've had my share of ECOT folks call me saying there's stuff going on and then they realize they can't talk because of non-disclosures," said Stephen Dyer, the education policy fellow for Innovation Ohio.
Dyer signed on to a public records request for the non-disclosure agreements allegedly offered by ECOT.
"We're looking at a massive, massive amount of taxpayer dollars that have been sent to an entity to educate kids who were probably weren't ever there," Dyer said.
Dyer and others at Monday's event said the entire situation underscores a need for better oversight of charter schools from the state.
Apryl Morin, the executive director or Educational Service Center of Lake Erie West, until recently ECOT's sponsor, sent the following statement, "The Educational Service Center of Lake Erie West does not (as a sponsor) engage in the employment of community schools staff and do not otherwise dictate the employment decisions of any other public entity. The ESC is not a party to, and has no knowledge of, any severance documents between ECOT and its former staff members."
An audit of ECOT by State Auditor Dave Yost was originally going to be released May 1st. His staff said that deadline has been pushed back. So far no new deadline has been announced. Several Democratic lawmakers have called for a criminal investigation after the whistleblower's originally accusations became public.