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Point of View: Attacks on Epic hurt kids, discourage innovation in public education

Mike Cantrell
Mike Cantrell

America is a land of innovators. From the invention of the telephone in 1876 to the release of the first iPhone in 2007, we have long led the way.

Inventions and institutions change over time. Those that do not often find themselves obsolete. Innovation matters and necessity is the mother of invention.

Enter COVID-19 and the sudden, wide adoption of virtual schooling. I wholeheartedly believe every child is entitled to a free, quality public education. As taxpayers, we should demand it. As parents, we should be able to count on it.

In 1985, I supported legislation to authorize public school foundations in Oklahoma. Years later, those foundations are now serving as a stop gap in a most difficult time.

In 1990, I supported House Bill 1017 publicly and worked to pass it because teachers like my wife deserved more than Oklahoma was giving them.

Over the objections of some of my colleagues in the energy industry, I have publicly advocated for raising Oklahoma’s gross production tax to boost education funding.

And since 2011, I have served as a member of the board of education for my granddaughter’s school, Epic Charter Schools.

Epic’s growth has been on a skyward trend since its inception but has nearly doubled in size due to the pandemic. Enrollment now tops 58,000. Oklahoma parents are smart and see that EPIC has nine years of experience under its belt when it comes to virtual education, an enviable position.

Traditional public schools that resisted innovation have seen their numbers dwindle. The sure-to-follow funding consequences have created panic among them.

Cue the state auditor and her effort to disparage a school that now serves tens of thousands of Oklahoma students. For more than two months, she has made countless presentations to various boards and organizations, each time co-mingling fuzzy math with her political opinion that Epic shouldn’t be allowed to live another day.

The continual persecution of Epic, which includes intimidation of parents and staff, isn’t just shameful — it’s un-American. It flies in the face of our nation’s history of innovation and ingenuity. This is America and citizens shouldn’t have to fear their government.

This month marks my last as an EPIC board member. I’m leaving to focus on my health and battle cancer with the same tenacity that I have brought to any worthy battle.

Even as my own career is increasingly visible in the rearview mirror, I know that industries and institutions that don’t adapt to changing times are destined to die. Leadership requires the courage and empathy to be bold in defense of the things we believe in, and forward thinking when it comes to preserving them through innovation.

Public education deserves our support, in whatever form it takes. That includes EPIC.

Cantrell, of Ada, has worked in the oil and gas industry for almost 50 years.