Epic Charter Schools is swimming in high water right now, as the state’s auditor has found more violations of Oklahoma’s policies on payroll cost in addition to the original discoveries of the original audit. The original lawsuit is delayed and the previous deadline for Epic to pay back $11.2 million is postponed to a month from its original deadline 60 days after the year-long audit.
Epic is an online charter school for Pre-K through 12th grade. It markets itself as a free online school with individual instruction and support from a certified teacher in the state of Oklahoma. This of course, is not a traditional style of education, and many families are moving towards a more online form of learning for their children that is more at their own pace. Epic, along with other partners of the Oklahoma State Board of Virtual Education, is a part of this larger trend in education.
As far back as 2019, reports of illegal activity within Epic were circulating. Multiple warrants were filed against the online institution, seemingly indicating a belief by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation that the purpose of Epic Charter Schools is to profit from the state’s tax dollars. It appears Ben Harris and David Chaney kept $10 million through the recruitment of homeschool and private school students who continued their education outside of Epic Charter Schools through their traditional institution or at home in traditional homeschooling methods.
These students are referred to as “ghost students,” and recruitment techniques such as this are an illegal way of falsely boosting student population numbers to receive the funding public schools receive per-student attending. Allegations surrounding this claim include students receiving little education from teachers through Epic’s system (again, it is set up as an at your own pace system), bonuses for any teacher that can keep ghost students enrolled in the online school and the questionable legality of the $1000 Learning Fund that Epic gives the families who enroll for their students.
Are the intentions of the administration of Epic Charter Schools truly as devious as things are made out to be? Some parents disagree, saying that the founders are well-intentioned and not in it for the money. These families believe that the media are trying to make Epic out to be more suspicious than they are in reality, that news sources are creating a twisted narrative around the educators.
The simple truth I believe is this: Epic Charter Schools are not indeed, at the core, placing the best interest of their students and their families first, but rather are trying to take millions from the government that is designated to public education. Oklahoma public schools are already suffering enough without funding without being robbed of what is already there to begin with. There would be no issue with Epic Charter Schools, frankly, if it weren’t for the illegal work arounds that they instigated, namely their alleged ghost student system.
If Epic Charter Schools is recruiting students from private schools that are not attending online in placement of a private education, then this is a huge problem. Not only does the state not receive the money that families give to private academic institutions, but also in this case the state is losing money to Epic that could have benefited the education of students that cannot afford a private education or the technology to attend an online platform. This isn’t even including homeschooled students who do not use the Epic Charter School system but are enrolled. Even worse, students’ families are enticed to join by an incentive of upwards of a thousand dollars, and teachers are paid bonuses for keeping students that don’t even attend enrolled.
All this being said, online schooling is not the problem. Technology is in fact a great tool for education when utilized properly. The issue is that Epic Charter Schools is using their tools in a destructive manner for many students. More and more evidence is being brought against them, and they already owe $11.2 million to the state, so it would be better to correct their course of action now if they are truly interested in the education of young minds.