Reineke opponent calls for return of donation

A Democratic candidate for Ohio House District 88 criticized her opponent, State Rep. Bill Reineke, for campaign contributions he accepted in 2014 and is asking him to donate those funds.

Rachel Crooks, D-Tiffin, asked Reineke, R-Tiffin, in a Friday release to explain more than $12,000 he received from Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow founder William Lager.

According to the Ohio Secretary of State’s published finance reports, Reineke received $12,155.52 from Lager in October 2014.

The release from Crooks states that ECOT intentionally exaggerated attendance claims, thus “robbing the state, and thereby the local districts of millions.” In the 88th District, ECOT took more than $4 million from local schools since 2012, the Crooks release states.

“For-profit charter schools like ECOT have been allowed to operate with no accountability for far too long, and they doled out millions in campaign checks — including $12,155.52 to Bill Reineke,” Crooks states in the release. “This Chartergate scandal is just another part of the GOP culture of corruption in Columbus. At least $80 million was pilfered from Ohio taxpayers, and Ohio’s kids have suffered because Republican lawmakers failed to crack down on ECOT’s shady practices for too many years. That’s why I’m calling on Reineke to donate all funds he received from ECOT.”

Reineke said he and other government officials have worked to reform charter schools.

“In 2016, I helped to author and pass the strongest reforms to Ohio’s charter schools in more than a decade, which enhanced transparency and accountability in our state’s education system,” he said. “The work certainly continues, but I’m committed to improving educational outcomes for all Ohio students.”

Reineke had no comment on whether he would donate funding received from Lager.

Crooks said Friday night that voters should be paying attention to the issue.

“We all deserve to know what (Reineke’s) relationship was with Bill Lager,” she said. “If he sees this issue as a big enough issue, he’d be willing to unload those resources. I hope voters are paying attention to this as we learn more and things unfold.”

According to a May 21 Columbus Dispatch report, ECOT was closed in January after the state ordered it to repay $80 million for unverified enrollment over two years. ECOT has received about $1 billion in state money since 2000.

The article states Auditor Dave Yost announced two weeks ago that ECOT officials may have committed fraud by purposely submitting “junk” student participation data to the Department of Education to boost the school’s state funding. Federal officials and Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien are determining whether to pursue charges.

Several Republicans who are seeking statewide office have said they will donate contributions from Lager to various organizations, while Secretary of State Jon Husted, who is Attorney General Mike DeWine’s running mate in the gubernatorial race this fall, has declined to return the money.

The Ohio Republican Party last year gave back $76,000 donated by Lager and a top associate.

“As an education professional, I am passionate about maintaining the highest standards to guarantee Ohio’s student reimbursement money is distributed scandal-free and with fairness and honesty,” Crooks stated in the release. “ECOT has taken money away from District 88’s public schools and it is time for Reineke to address the thousands of dollars he received from the founder of ECOT. The taxpayers of Ohio and my district deserve better.”

Crooks has more than 10 years combined work experience at Heidelberg and Tiffin universities. Her focus has been international student recruitment and services. She is the director for international student recruitment at Heidelberg.

Reineke has held the Ohio House 88th District seat since 2015.

Reineke and Crooks are to face off Nov. 6 for a two-year term.