Ohio’s Term-Limited House Speaker Becomes Lobbyist for Notorious Charter Operator

Ohio’s top education reporter, Doug Livingston at the Akron Beacon Journal, recently reported that Bill Batchelder—longtime legislator and recent Ohio House Speaker who just left the House due to term limits—has revolved directly into lobbying.  Batchelder has already taken on a prominent client, William Lager—one of Ohio’s most notorious contributors of campaign cash, founder of Ohio’s long-failing Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), and owner of the two privately held, for-profit companies that provide all services for ECOT.

Livingston explains: “Recently retired Ohio House Speaker William Batchelder, R-Medina, long an advocate for school choice, has gone into business with former House staffers who are lobbying for the state’s largest charter school organization. The online school, Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow and known as ECOT, is among the state’s lowest performing charter schools.  The for-profit companies related to ECOT are Altair Learning Management and IQ Innovations, an online education software firm.  The founder, William Lager, has donated more than $1 million to prominent Ohio Republicans since 2010, among them Batchelder. Less than a month after he speaker was term-limited in December, Batchelder’s former chief of staff, Troy Judy, and policy director, Chad Hawley, changed the name of a consulting firm created by Judy months earlier to The Batchelder Company, a lobbying firm.”

Even the Plain Dealer, which has in the past been relatively neutral about the growing charter school sector in Ohio, has begun to express concern.  On the same day as Livingston described Batchelder’s new lobbying venture in the Beacon Journal, the Plain Dealer published a full page editorial (with a picture in the print edition of a huge wave of hundred dollar bills) about Governor John Kasich’s biennial budget proposal for education, a proposal that favors charters and cuts traditional public schools.  The headline screams: “Charter Schools Can Expect a Tsunami of Cash Under Kasich’s Budget Plan, While Traditional Public Schools’ Resources Ebb.”

The editorial begins: “There has to be a better way to fund kindergarten-through-12th-grade charter schools than Gov. John Kasich’s latest budget proposal, which would further rob traditional public schools of millions of dollars in order to subsidize poorly regulated charter schools.  The governor’s plan would continue the cannibalization of Ohio’s public schools.  That’s especially so since the General Assembly itself has been all too willing over the years to pick the pockets of traditional public schools to pad the pockets of the private interests behind for-profit charters and the lobbyists who represent them—and far too unwilling to tighten Ohio’s shamefully lax regulatory framework for charters.”

The editors remind us of the recent Stanford CREDO (Stanford Center for Research on Education Outcomes) report that concludes, “Despite exemplars of strong results, over 40 percent of Ohio charter schools are in urgent need of improvement: they both post smaller student academic gains each year and their overall achievement levels are below the average for the state.  If their current performance is permitted to continue, the students enrolled in these schools will fall even further behind over time.”  “Compared to the educational gains that charter students would have had in a traditional public school, the analysis shows on average that the students in Ohio charter schools perform worse in both reading and mathematics.”

In December, Margaret Raymond, part of the Hoover Institution and director of Stanford’s CREDO, came to the Cleveland City Club, where she declared that in Ohio the school-choice marketplace is not working: “I’ve studied competitive markets for much of my career… Education is the only industry/sector where the market mechanism just doesn’t work… I think it’s not helpful to expect parents to be the agents of quality assurance throughout the state.  There are other supports that are needed… I think we need to have a greater degree of oversight of charter schools, but I also think we need to have more oversight of the overseers… the authorizers.”

Governor Kasich has recently said he is making it a new priority to regulate the bad actors in Ohio’s charter sector.  The Plain Dealer‘s editors credit him with good intentions, but they wonder why the proposed budget, which speaks with dollars proposed rather than mere political rhetoric, is supporting the notorious profiteers the Governor claims he intends to sanction: “This year, it appears charter reforms supported by Kasich finally will emerge in the General Assembly.  Increasing charters’ taxpayer subsidy should await the results of that reform effort; pumping nearly $1 billion into their coffers, as the governor’s plan envisions, is not the answer.”  The editorial continues: “The Ohio General Assembly should also change a state law that puts traditional public school systems, such as Akron’s, on the hook for millions of dollars to provide bus transportation to private and charter school students even beyond what they can afford to offer regular public students.”

The Plain Dealer‘s editors conclude: “The state must stop a school-funding approach that, to benefit deficient charter schools, is hollowing out the ability of public schools to function.”  Unfortunately, the fact that the just-retired House Speaker, Bill Batchelder, is becoming the lobbyist for William Lager and ECOT instead portends more state support for political players like William Lager and continued lax oversight—thereby protecting their huge profits.