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Ohio sues e-school founder, leaders in bid to recoup funding

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine on Tuesday filed a “complaint for recovery of public funds” against individuals and companies tied to the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT).

ECOT was Ohio’s largest online charter school before state probes showed the school’s enrollment was inflated, leading to improper funding. The school, founded by William Lager in 2000, closed in January.

RELATED: ECOT case referred to prosecutor’s office

DeWine, the Republican candidate for governor, said his office has been working to hold ECOT accountable.

“I will continue to be aggressive in seeking to recover public funds from ECOT, its affiliates, and Mr. Lager that they improperly received,” he said.

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But Democrats have been hammering DeWine and numerous other Republican politicians who took significant campaign contributions from Lager for years while the school posted extremely low academic results.

RELATED: Emails reveal battle over online school’s closure

A parade of Ohio Republican leaders spoke at ECOT’s graduation ceremonies, including Gov. John Kasich, current state auditor and candidate for attorney general Dave Yost, and DeWine’s current running mate, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted.

Stephen Dyer, education policy fellow at the left-leaning Innovation Ohio group, said DeWine could have protected the public’s money any time in the past eight years.

“But he did it two months from a tough election, with ECOT honorary degree recipient Jon Husted as his running mate,” Dyer said on Twitter.

RELATED: Sponsor votes to close large ECOT charter school

The Ohio Department of Education’s enrollment reviews of ECOT found the school overbilled the state by $60.35 million in 2015-16 and by $19.3 million in 2017. ECOT’s appeals were rejected by ODE and the Ohio Supreme Court, leading to DeWine’s filing Tuesday.

The court documents say ODE has collected $17.6 million of those debts, and a balance of roughly $62 million is due, plus costs and interest, with that debt referred to the attorney general for collection.

The defendants in the lawsuit filed in Franklin County Common Pleas Court are Lager, former ECOT Superintendent Rick Teeters and Treasurer Michelle Smith, ECOT administrators Christopher Meister, Ann Barnes and Regina Lukich, Altair Learning Management I, Inc., which operated the school, IQ Innovations, LLC, which provided ECOT with curricular services, and the Travelers insurance company.

RELATED: State withholds more money in ECOT overbilling case

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