12,000 ECOT Students Kicked to Curb Mid-Year - Columbus Public No Claw back

Priorities Show Deep Bias, Indifference to Cheating, Punitive Behavior

By John Corrigan


(COLUMBUS) The greatest fraud perpetrated upon Ohio education in its history came courtesy of The Columbus City Schools. It became known as the “data scrubbing scandal” a culture of corruption and illegality so widespread that State Auditor Dave Yost established a special audit to get to the bottom of the crimes. The corruption involved violations of R.C. 3301.0714(L) and 2913.42, relating to record tampering and fraud.  


Thousands of student records were retroactively altered at the end of each school year for five years.


The scandal was discovered through the reporting of The Columbus Dispatch newspaper in 2012. The data that was scrubbed included the widespread manipulation of data that sought to make the struggling school district look good in the eyes of the Ohio Department of Education and the voting public of the school district. Voters would be asked for numerous property tax hikes to maintain, what its mission statement claimed: “Our Mission: Each Student is highly educated, prepared for leadership and service, and empowered for success as a citizen in a global community.” It was later proven that nothing could have been farther from the truth.


Yost determined that even though massive cheating took place, due to Ohio’s school funding formula in place at the time, the cheating did not result in Columbus having to reimburse the State.  No tax dollars were ever recovered.


The Columbus City Schools data scrubbing scandal was discovered almost six years ago in June of 2012.  To date, two thirds of those who participated in the cheating, continue to retain their jobs and areas of responsibility at Columbus City Schools.  How is that possible?  The Ohio Department of Education is the agency responsible for their discipline. Of the 64 administrators and teachers involved proven to have cheated the state, only 21 have been disciplined.


75% of the cheaters still hold teaching licenses in Ohio, and it has been almost six years since the scandal was discovered. It has been the responsibility of The Ohio Department of Education to discipline those who participated in the cheating. Now, the statute of limitations is upon us, and clearly ODE has turned a blind eye to these cheaters, and hide behind a non-transparent disciplinary system to not only not act, but to allow the behavior to be rewarded with no action.


Contrast this to the ECOT closure where over 1,000 teachers, administrators and staff were given a “temporary” layoff pending the Ohio Supreme Court Case.


The Layoff came 31/2 hours short of teachers receiving their full year of retirement benefits, and 271/2 hours short of receiving health care coverage through February. The payment for their health care had already been taken out of the teachers last paycheck. 


Columbus City Schools violations of state law were clear, obvious, according to Auditor of State Yost and Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien. These laws were on the books for years and there was no question of the guilt.  Superintendent of Schools Gene Harris plead guilty to a lesser charge of dereliction of duty and received a fine, community service and probation. No jail time for this massive fraud.


In fact, just this week the Columbus Dispatch reported that two finalist for Superintendent of Columbus Public Schools have ties to the data scrubbing scandal. Amazing, isn’t it?


Obviously, removing cheating administrators and teachers from public service, punishing the guilty, and establishing a culture of honesty in public education is just not a priority of the sorry Ohio Department of Education.


Put this into the context of the aggressive behavior of ODE towards Ohio’s public charter schools, where ODE was more than willing to make up rules without going through the legally prescribed process, apply old rules to new standards of review for charter school sponsors, which has left tens of thousands of school children without their school due to school closings.


ODE’s actions on implementation of H.B. 2 of the 131st General Assembly, the Charter School Sponsor Accountability legislation begs more questions.  After the passage of H.B. 2, ODE failed to draft and pass rules to implement the accountability measures. They tried to pass portions of their version of the rules to apply retroactively to charter schools. JCARR said no to this scheme. Did ODE draft new, legal rules? No, they just said that they would grade Charter School Sponsors based on the old rules, never intended for such a purpose.


As previously reported, ODE has quietly struck deals with many of the public school districts to close their e-schools without penalty.


In testimony before the Board of Education at its June meeting, Governor John R. Kasich’s former education advisor and 21 year ODE employee, Robert Sommers openly questioned how ODE could properly apply rules never intended for sponsor evaluations to current sponsors, and not provide those sponsors the ability to make corrections over the course of time. The retroactive application of rules to the new death penalty for sponsorship standards stood out to as wholly unfair in this testimony.


All this inaction, willfully allowing cheating teachers and administrators to go unpunished, and inability to properly execute legal rule making pales in comparison to the aggressive campaign to single out and punish online schools in Ohio.


With lightning speed, ODE chose in 2016 to enforce policies that were never legally approved for FTE Review Audits of online schools, and have considered them rules, to conduct audits of seven online schools. The schools not under review were given a one-year head start to comply with the policies that ODE calls rules. ODE’s behavior towards ECOT is well documented, and the subject of multiple lawsuits filed by the school to survive, including a stripping of $80 million from the state’s largest charter school. Not one dollar was ever recovered from Columbus City Schools, and thus far, the Sponsors who have settled with ODE have not been required to forfeit any state funding.


ODE offered no comment on why it could not bring 75% of the data scrubbers in Columbus to justice. In almost any other setting, those who have willfully perpetrated a fraud upon its customers is fired or otherwise disciplined. But in Ohio, charter schools who have to live by retroactive rules, never properly set forth for enforcement are the only schools whose children are forced to suffer while cheaters continue to get away with it. 


If you don't believe us, ask the 12,000 misplaced ECOT students whose school was just closed mid-year.