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Epic Charter Schools: A Tulsa World investigation

Epic Charter Schools: A Tulsa World investigation

Tulsa World Staff Writer Andrea Eger has been reporting about Epic Charter Schools since the discovery that it was under investigation by state and federal law enforcement agencies. 

Here is all of the reporting on Epic since January 2019. 

Staff Writer

I'm a projects reporter, examining key education topics and other local issues. Since joining the Tulsa World in 1999, I have been a three-time winner of Oklahoma’s top award for investigative reporting by an individual. Phone: 918-581-8470

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At issue is a clause in Epic’s contract that states: “Under no circumstances shall the Charter School and/or its program of instruction ... be used to provide or otherwise supplement instruction of home-schooled students or students enrolled in private schools, or used as a method of generating revenue for students who are being home-schooled or are enrolled in private schools.”

“We have no comment as this matter is under litigation,” said Shelly Hickman, Epic’s assistant superintendent of communications. “However, we are pleased one of these suits has already been dismissed. We are confident and eager to present our case regarding this former, disgruntled employee.”

The state’s largest virtual charter school warned Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee, in a “cease and desist” letter in September that he faced “immediate legal action” if he didn’t comply with the school’s demand for a published retraction of his previous statements. On Tuesday, Epic accused Sharp of libel and slander in a lawsuit filed in Oklahoma County District Court.

DOCUMENT: Epic lawsuit against Sen. Ron Sharp

Each Epic student has access to up to $1,000 annually for extracurricular, educational activities through something Epic calls the Learning Fund. The newly revealed allegations concern how Epic has paid out and reported the expenditure of millions of dollars in state appropriated funds through its Learning Fund.

Epic Charter Schools under investigation: 10 key points you need to know

Public records show an official at the State Auditor's office put the leader of the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, one of the school's sponsors, in touch with the OSBI agent investigating Epic back in February.

DOCUMENT: Epic's own authorizer contemplating state audit request, records show

Epic under investigation: 10 key points you need to know.

Records show FBI has also been looking into Epic.

Public records show an official at the State Auditor's office put the leader of the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, one of the school's sponsors, in touch with the OSBI agent investigating Epic back in February.

DOCUMENT: Epic's own authorizer contemplating state audit request, records show

Epic under investigation: 10 key points you need to know.

Records show FBI has also been looking into Epic.

Investigators alleged Epic unlawfully received millions of dollars in state funds by inflating its enrollment with students who received little to no instruction from the virtual charter school, according to a search warrant filed Tuesday.

Epic Charter Schools under investigation: 10 key points you need to know

Tulsa World editorial: Does having separate state boards supervising traditional and virtual schools serve education well?

Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee, said he has tried in vain for nearly three months to find out how Epic could have received millions of dollars in state funding the last two years for 3,000-4,000 students in middle and high school when the school’s own website and assistant superintendent have said the Blended Learning Centers they are enrolled in can only be attended by students in early education and elementary school grades.

On initial inspection, we like House Bill 1395, which has been offered by Rep. Sheila Dills, R-Tulsa. The bill would require Epic and other virtual charter schools to be subject to the same financial reporting requirements and audits as traditional school districts. Virtual schools would have to report any contracts for administrative fees, including the names of people holding contracts, the amount to be paid for services and details about what services are provided.

Two days after the Tulsa World published a yearlong investigation on Epic Charter Schools, the state auditor served Epic Youth Services with an administrative investigative subpoena seeking access to nearly a dozen types of records associated with the Learning Fund.

'Our kids have become a piggy bank': Epic Charter Schools shields $50M in taxpayer funds from public scrutiny

DOCUMENT: See Epic's Learning Fund bills totaling $42 million

  • Updated
  • 3 min to read

Mathew Hamrick missed a July board vote to file a friend-of-the-court brief in favor of the state auditor and weeks later signed an affidavit on Epic’s behalf in the legal battle.

Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board wants to weigh in on court case involving Epic

Epic Charter Schools founders and backers keep up campaign influence spending amid state investigations

  • Updated

A group of Republican lawmakers — 11 state representatives and 11 state senators — issued a joint statement Wednesday calling on Gov. Kevin Stitt to request an investigative audit of the state Education Department to determine the full extent and impact of its potential failure to ensure compliance with the Oklahoma Cost Accounting System for public schools.

Epic Charter Schools: A Tulsa World investigation

  • Updated

General Counsel Brad Clark on Thursday presented to the board records he said showed a years-long history of Epic’s “nonresponsiveness and noncompliance” with state Department of Education requests for information about its use of taxpayer dollars — and new deficiencies discovered in reviews of Epic’s federally funded programs for special education and homeless students and English learners.

  • Updated

Gov. Kevin Stitt and a group of lawmakers are vowing to act on the scandal surrounding Epic Charter Schools. The problem is that the solutions they propose don't address the actual problems identified and seem to have more to do with their own political interests than protecting the taxpayers, the editorial says.

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