A group associated with Epic Charter Schools has donated money to several politicians, including Kevin Stitt. graphic by Conner Maggio

Charter schools should be held to higher transparency standards

New House Bill 1395 would require charter schools to obey the same financial reporting requirements as public schools.

A new institution in Oklahoma, Epic Charter Schools, seeks to provide a better form of education to young students. Students can receive their education online or through a mix of online and in-person classes. The non-profit organization was started in 2012 by its founders, Ben Harris and David Cheney, as an online school. Epic Charter Schools works with for-profit company Epic Youth Services, LLC for the necessary services provided. While the two companies are not connected, both of its non-profit founders have stake in the company as major shareholders.

Recently Harris, Cheney and 13 other individuals associated with Epic donated around $180,000 in the 2018 elections to a variety of different politicians. This group includes State Superintendent of Public Affairs Joy Hofmeister, Governor Kevin Stitt and Attorney General Mike Hunter. However, the donations may not have been everything they initially seemed, as some of this money was earned through state aid for the production of Epic. While these individuals have a right to donate to political candidates they believe in, their companies should be open to reporting requirements due to their connection to the state government. New legislation, such as House Bill 1395, which imposes similar financial reporting requirements as done by public education institutions, is necessary for full financial transparency.

Created by Representative Sheila Dills, HB 1395 requires new virtual schools to follow similar procedures as public schools while disclosing information. It also states that members of the company’s board must follow similar conflict of interest problems as public school boards and that these companies will be required to disclose financial details when the school contracts with an outside institution that assists in the process. In addition to these other requirements, the bill requires that virtual education institutions follow education requirements set forward by the board of education. This bill forces virtual schools to follow a similar system to public school systems in an attempt to make sure an equal quality of education is given to all students whether in public or virtual schools. It requires that all forms of education follow a specific set of guidelines so that students in these virtual institutions are hopefully not taken advantage of by large corporations.

Virtual school transparency is not only important for the education of Oklahoma children but also Oklahoma taxpayers who help pay for places like Epic. To assist in the process of education, Epic will receive $72,123,680 in state aid this year, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Education. This is ostensibly due to rising enrollment at their different forms of education facilities.

Such a large amount of money being given to Epic and other private institutions should be monitored heavily to see that the funds are not being wasted or used in an illegal or unethical manner. Some may argue that both Epic Charter Schools and Epic Youth Services are private corporations and therefore should be not held to the same requirements as public institutions. However, their receiving of state aid should leave them open to investigation and special reporting requirements.

Transparency is necessary in financial contributions by Epic because they receive state aid funds from the board of education. This should be done to prevent problems should Epic receives additional funds due to previously funding the campaigns of candidates who are now in power. Shining a light on the system will hopefully halt any potential corruption due to Epic’s connections to the state government. House Bill 1395 provides important measures that allow citizens and the government to truly know the inner workings of a corporation that receives so much state funding.

Post Author: Nathan Hinkle