Stitt calls for audit of Epic
Gov. Kevin Stitt and state schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister called Friday for Oklahoma’s state auditor to conduct an investigative audit of Epic Charter Schools.
The state officials also are calling for State Auditor Cindy Byrd to re-examine any state or federal audits of the virtual charter school system completed in the past three years.
Stitt, who expressed support for charter schools on the campaign trail, said all Oklahoma schools must be held to the same transparency standards.
“As we progress towards becoming a Top Ten state, we must be equally committed to accountability and transparency across the public education spectrum,” he said in a statement.
Stitt’s call for a deeper look at Epic’s finances comes after news broke this week that both the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and federal law enforcement officials are probing Epic’s enrollment practices.
The OSBI alleged the school embezzled millions in state funding by illegally inflating enrollment numbers with “ghost students.”
In a statement, a representative for Epic said they welcome the audit.
“We will fully cooperate with the governor's request for Oklahoma Auditor & Inspector Cindy Byrd to conduct an audit of EPIC and we agree to bear the cost of that audit,” said Shelly Hickman, Epic's assistant superintendent. “We welcome this as an opportunity to once again prove to the public that our school follows the law in our service to the Oklahoma public school children and Oklahoma families we serve.”
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What Stitt is calling for would be a more thorough look at Epic’s finances than the annual audits the virtual charter school system has faced in the past. Those audits are merely routine financial reviews, not forensic audits, which would more likely catch signs of misused funds.
Hofmeister, also calling for greater transparency in how taxpayer dollars are spent on education, praised Stitt for taking charge in this situation.
“As every public education dollar is precious, it is critical that there be full transparency and accountability for how those dollars are spent,” she said in a statement. “I commend Gov. Stitt In calling for this audit to help shed light on the matter.”
Stitt’s Office on Wednesday also requested a briefing on the OSBI’s investigation into Oklahoma’s largest virtual charter school system. It's unclear if that briefing already has happened.
OSBI agents claim Epic co-founders David Chaney and Ben Harris illegally pocketed $10 million in state funds from 2013 to 2018, according to a court document filed Tuesday.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Department of Education’s law enforcement arm have also been digging into Epic’s finances and enrollment numbers, the Tulsa World reported this week.
Epic’s co-founders contributed more than $200,000 to Oklahoma political candidates and political action committees over the last 10 years, contribution reports show. Most of the money went to Republicans.
The two founders, their wives and Epic's chief financial officer, Josh Brock, contributed $40,500 to state Superintendent Joy Hofmeister's 2018 re-election campaign, the reports show.