For a year, Epic Charter Schools has been denying Tulsa World requests for information about how it spends taxpayer money.
Now, add the Oklahoma attorney general and auditor and inspector to the list being told they can’t see what’s happening inside Epic. The situation has forced Attorney General Mike Hunter’s office to file court motions to compel information.
Epic is under investigation by the FBI and Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, and Gov. Kevin Stitt ordered an audit eight months ago.
Of particular interest is how the school and Epic’s for-profit management company use the $1,000-per-student “learning fund” the school offers students and a 10% management fee. The private management company is owned by Epic’s founders.
It should not take a court order to find out what’s happening with the public’s money. These are records any citizen ought to be able to inspect.
This lack of transparency is what the Oklahoma Open Records Act was designed to prevent.
Once more vigorous than it is now, the Open Records Act has been chipped full of holes with legislatively approved exemptions requested by state agency heads, lobbyists and various industries, but we think it still it covers this situation, and it appears some of the state’s top elected officials think so, too.
The Oklahoma Legislature, which created the atmosphere in which Epic operates, is now trying to play catch up on the issues surrounding online charter schools in the state. We salute state House passage of Rep. Sheila Dills’ House Bill 2905, the Virtual Charter School Reform and Transparency Act of 2020.
While they’re fixing their past mistakes, perhaps lawmakers should reconsider repairing the damage they have done to the Open Records Act. The Epic situation demonstrates how important it is for that law to be strong and fully enforced.