When the Oklahoma State Board of Education met behind closed doors this week to discuss investigations into Epic Charter Schools and proposed actions against educators’ state certifications, they had a unique observer present.
State Rep. Sheila Dills, a freshman Tulsa lawmaker, used a rarely invoked legal provision in state law to sit in on the state board’s executive session.
“I’m very interested in what is taking place with the state department and current events,” said Dills, a Republican whose House District 69 includes portions of south Tulsa, Jenks and Bixby. “I want to have a positive working relationship with them. There were agenda items that I had an interest in. I feel like it is part of my responsibility and especially since I serve on the Common Education Committee to know exactly what is going on.”
She added: “I have statutory authority to attend, and the speaker of the House and Common Ed chair supported this.”
Dills authored one of the only successful pieces of legislation during the 2019 session targeting virtual schools with new financial transparency reporting requirements and prohibitions on employee conflicts of interest.
Brad Clark, general counsel at the Oklahoma State Department of Education, said he had never seen it used, but a provision in state law allows legislative committee members to attend executive sessions of related state bodies.
Specifically, Title 25, Chapter 8, Section 310 of state statutes includes Definitions and General Provisions for the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act.
It states: “Any member of the Legislature appointed as a member of a committee of either house of the Legislature or joint committee thereof shall be permitted to attend any executive session authorized by the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act of any state agency, board or commission whenever the jurisdiction of such committee includes the actions of the public body involved.”
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation is investigating allegations of embezzlement, obtaining money by false pretenses and racketeering at Epic, the state’s fastest-growing online school system.
And as the Tulsa World previously reported, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Education’s law enforcement arm have also been probing Epic Charter Schools’ student enrollment practices and finances for the past several years.
Late last week, Gov. Kevin Stitt requested an investigative audit of Epic Charter Schools and its related entities by the Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector.
Dills authored House Bill 1395, which resulted in Epic’s co-founder, David Chaney, stepping down from his role as superintendent this summer because of his ownership stake in the for-profit company that manages the public charter school.
In public court records, OSBI said it reviewed bank statements that showed Chaney and fellow Epic co-founder Ben Harris had split profits of at least $10 million between 2013 and 2018.
Epic Charter Schools: A Tulsa World investigation
Epic Charter Schools targets state senator again in pre-election email to parents
Epic Charter Schools founders and backers keep up campaign influence spending amid state investigations
State senator sued by Epic Charter Schools awarded legal fees plus $500,000 in sanctions
Enrollment already up 77% across Oklahoma's six virtual charter schools amid COVID-19 pandemic
Epic co-founder claims innocence in new video address amid back-to-school student recruiting drive
Epic becomes Oklahoma's largest school district as pandemic pushes virtual enrollment
Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board wants to weigh in on court case involving Epic
State Chamber says no conflicts of interest in legal filing despite Epic Charter Schools' membership, school founder on Chamber board of directors
Epic Charter Schools' for-profit management firm refuses to release documents to investigators, Oklahoma attorney general says
'Our kids have become a piggy bank': Epic Charter Schools shields $50M in taxpayer funds from public scrutiny
Lawmakers accuse Epic of intimidation attempt with defamation lawsuit against state senator
Epic Charter Schools sues state senator who questioned student attendance and funding, accusing him of slander
Epic Charter Schools promoting itself with multimillion-dollar advertising campaign, plus $9,000 per month shopping mall playground sponsorships
OSBI investigating new allegations of forgery by Epic Charter Schools' co-founder and CFO, willful neglect by board members
How does Epic Charter Schools stack up academically? Check out student proficiency test scores
Epic Charter Schools' expansion into Texas in limbo amid new revelations about criminal investigation
Tulsa lawmaker uses rarely invoked legal provision to attend closed-door meeting on Epic Charter Schools investigation, educators
New records reveal Epic Charter Schools' sponsor was in touch with state auditor for months before scandal
Governor requests state audit of Epic Charter Schools; school's sponsor already in touch with state auditor
Records show FBI has also been looking into Epic Charter Schools, along with federal education investigators
State superintendent reacts to Epic Charter Schools investigation; online school official claims innocence
State senator raises new questions about Epic Charter Schools and oversight by Oklahoma State Department of Education
Leadership change at Oklahoma's largest virtual charter school likely necessitated by new transparency, conflict of interest law
State Senate passes new transparency reporting requirements for virtual charter schools; bill headed to Gov. Stitt next
State education officials deny clearing Epic Charter Schools in investigation, despite school's new claims
Epic Charter Schools, school reform and funding needs on the minds of Tulsa Republicans at Friday event with State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister
New transparency reporting requirements for virtual charter schools advance to state Senate
Parents, students pack Capitol to tell lawmakers about 'the array of reasons to choose Epic'
15 people with ties to Epic Charter donated $180,000 to 78 candidates for state office
Epic Charter Schools under investigation by state, federal law enforcement agencies
A study in contrasts: Most Tulsa County districts lose students while virtual numbers soar
496 Tulsa Public Schools students left for EPIC virtual school since August. TPS to lawmakers: Regulation is needed
Skyrocketing student enrollment nets Epic Charter Schools nearly $39 million more in midyear adjustments to state funding for public schools
Journalism worth your time and money
July 2019: Joy Hofmeister on Epic Charter Schools scandal
Be the first to know
Get local news delivered to your inbox!