OSBI meets with DA about Epic; OKCPS discusses plan to take on students
Two OSBI agents on Wednesday updated Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater about their progress on the investigation into Epic Charter Schools, the state’s largest virtual charter school system.
“The investigation is ongoing,” Prater said after the 90-minute meeting Wednesday. “I just advised them to run out all their leads to the end.”
The meeting comes as officials in Oklahoma City Public Schools, the largest school district in the state, have discussed accepting students from Epic if the virtual school is forced to close because of the investigation.
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation has been looking into Epic and its founders since 2013. Prater will decide whether any charges are warranted once the fraud and embezzlement investigation is complete. The meeting Wednesday was his second this year with the OSBI about Epic.
"We hope this means we are one step closer to an end to this seemingly ceaseless investigation," said Shelly Hickman, Epic assistant administrator of communications. "We are confident that when the full facts are presented, it will become clear we are operating in full compliance with the law. Until then, we remain focused on the more than 25,000 students and families we serve."
Oklahoma City school administrators have addressed the possibility of a sudden influx of Epic students, said Beth Harrison, district chief communications officer.
“OKCPS is confident in our ability to quickly absorb Epic students who live inside our district boundaries should the need arise,” Harrison said in a statement. “As always, we are committed to providing an outstanding educational experience for all students.”
State schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said the OSBI has advised against disrupting student education at Epic.
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At Edmond Public Schools, officials said they would add extra flex sections at the three high schools or hire Epic staff to teach new students if Epic’s educational services are halted, district spokeswoman Susan Parks-Schlepp said.
The district estimated Epic has between 250 and 400 students from Edmond.
The OSBI recommended the Oklahoma State Department of Education continue funding Epic as usual this school year, Hofmeister said. Epic’s initial allocation of state funds was set at $112.96 million for fiscal year 2019-20.
Epic is a public school that receives state funding for each student enrolled.
Investigators alleged Epic unlawfully inflated its enrollment with “ghost students” who received little or no instruction from the virtual charter school. These students were enrolled in Epic while also attending private and sectarian schools or while being home-schooled, according to an OSBI search warrant filed in Oklahoma County District Court.
Epic has denied any wrongdoing.
The OSBI also alleged Epic co-founders David Chaney and Ben Harris illegally profited $10 million from state funds that flowed through the virtual school to its management company, Epic Youth Services. The company receives 10% of Epic’s state funds for operating the virtual school system.
Nolan Clay was born in Oklahoma and has worked as a reporter for The Oklahoman since 1985. He covered the Oklahoma City bombing trials and witnessed bomber Tim McVeigh's execution. His investigative reports have brought down public officials,... Read more ›
Nuria Martinez-Keel joined The Oklahoman in 2019. She found a home at the newspaper while interning in summer 2016 and 2017. Nuria returned to The Oklahoman for a third time after working a year and a half at the Sedalia Democrat in Sedalia,... Read more ›