All ECOT had to do was grease the skids at the Statehouse with campaign checks, and the mammoth online school could bank a fortune in state funding while delivering next to nothing in academic achievement. Credit Bill Lager for coming up with the scheme.

ECOT’s founder and primary beneficiary found a way to pocket hundreds of millions of public education dollars for not educating. Some trick, huh? A limitless, largely unquestioned flow of tax money made Lager a very wealthy man. He’s got an impressive array of luxury real estate to prove it.

But taking money under false pretenses is a scam, and ECOT pulled a big one on Ohio. The swindle was state-sanctioned. It went on for years. In the open. No secret.

Lager’s virtual school consistently scored failing grades on state assessments. Student progress was pathetic to nonexistent. Two years ago, ECOT recorded the highest number of students who dropped out, or didn’t complete school in four years, of any high school in the country.

ECOT liked to blame its chronically poor academic performances on its challenging enrollees of economically disadvantaged, often transient students, including those who came into the system already behind grade level. But the same type of students populate brick and mortar schools in Ohio’s large urban areas, and those districts routinely outperformed ECOT in proficiency measures.

The mostly Republican politicians Lager paid off with generous campaign donations allowed ECOT to do its worst for too long. Over 18 years, Lager’s money tree diverted more than $1 billion from the state’s education budget to boost the bottom line of a for-profit business.

The public investment in ECOT didn’t boost the academic progress of students, but that was irrelevant to Lager’s political allies in Columbus. Their detachment from the damaging realities of the online giant was all it took for greed to flourish.

Lager figured out how to game the charter school movement early on. Jump in at the starting gate of the school experiment in the state. Propose a tax-funded virtual charter run by Lager-affiliated management and software companies. Pocket the state funding paid to those companies. Reward officeholders who scuttle any and all attempts at charter reform.

The ECOT scheme might still be going strong if not for the scrutiny — and spine — of the Ohio Department of Education. Auditors discovered the charter was being paid for full-time students it couldn’t document. No pass on ECOT transgressions — this time.

In just the 2015-2016 school year, investigators found that the online charter inflated its attendance numbers by almost 60 percent to get more state money. The audit could only verify 6,313 students full-time ECOT students, instead of the 15,322 claimed by the school.

Some ECOT students, counted as full-time for billing purposes, barely logged in to their computers at all, let alone completed coursework required by the state. The state Education Department calculated that Lager’s operation had collected (stolen?) tens of millions of dollars in overpayments for phantom students.

But ECOT wants the state to recalculate. The gall. The online school has litigated for its right to be treated differently all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court. It has tried, laughably, to paint the Department of Education as a heartless bully demanding retribution for ECOT’s wrongdoing.

When financial pressures forced the e-school close, its operators portrayed themselves as political victims of education bureaucrats pursuing “illegal and retroactive rule-making.” No. ECOT doesn’t get to play the victim card. Not after what it pulled at our expense.

No sympathy, only outrage is reserved for ECOT’s egregious theft of public funds, for the years of lost learning that Ohio students will never recover, for the political acquiescence of state leaders who knew about the scam and did nothing.

We, who pay taxes for public schools to educate our children, are the real victims. We want justice for being privately ripped off and publicly betrayed.

Johanek is a veteran print and broadcast journalist.