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Tulsa World editorial: Governor, lawmakers turn Epic scandal on its ear

Tulsa World editorial: Governor, lawmakers turn Epic scandal on its ear

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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.

For at least two years, Epic has been under scrutiny by state and federal investigators. Lawmakers have been slow to address those problems and fix the inequities among virtual and traditional schools.

In response to a critical state audit of the Epic situation, Stitt and a group of 22 Republican lawmakers vowed to go after the Oklahoma Department of Education, a bizarre and deeply out of touch response to the evidence at hand. The department wasn’t responsible for the Epic problems. In fact, the state Board of Education was largely written out of Epic oversight by the Legislature.

Stitt then double downed by removing John Harrington as president of the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, despite the fact that Harrington had prudently started termination proceedings against Epic

and challenged two board members for conflicts of interest.

Those members remain: Phyllis Shepherd is the great aunt of one of Epic’s co-founders, and Mathew Hamrick accepted donations for a failed legislative campaign.

These responses to the Epic situation are unjustified and contrary to the public interest. Instead of concentrating on what went wrong with Epic and how the state should address it, Stitt is aiming at the state Department of Education and attacking those who actually have taken legitimate oversight steps.

Stitt has been critical of the education department since he took office, frustrated by his lack of control over the agency that controls the biggest single piece of the state spending.

We have supported other efforts to centralize state government under the governor’s leadership, but won’t support any effort to take away independent administration of public schools under the elected state superintendent and a governor-appointed state board of education.

We repeat: That system didn’t result in the Epic problem. In fact, if the Legislature had allowed it to work right, it might have prevented it.

The State Auditor and Inspector’s recent findings are clear and demand real action, not power grabs and empire building.

Those include having one state oversight board, reviewing the genuine cost for virtual education, stopping for-profit groups from managing public charters and holding the boards of charter sponsors accountable.

We don’t oppose transparency, accountability and reform. In fact, the Epic situation tells us that it is desperately needed. Now, if we could get the governor and the Legislature to put it in the right places.


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Gallery: Tulsa World's Epic investigation

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