Despite lawsuits, a state audit, grand jury investigation and large-scale media exposure, very little has been accomplished by state lawmakers to address the issues with Epic Charter Schools.
The state’s audit reported that because a private company handled the banking, nearly $80 million worth of five years of spending was unaccounted for. For-profit Epic Youth Services LLC was paid management fees that came from public funds. Other administration fees were paid from public funds. Oversight appears to have been intentionally avoided.
Last week, a Mutlicounty Grand Jury tasked with investigating findings from a state audit of Epic, determined that it would have to delay its investigation due to a lack of transparency.
“Due to the lack of transparency in accounting for the funds, intentional avoidance of disclosure of information by a private entity and lack of cooperation; the investigation is unable to be completed at this time,” the report reads.
The entities audited for what appears to be a lack of financial transparency, were not being transparent with investigators.
In March, the state school board, very aware all of this was going on, voted 4-3 to equalize public fundings for traditional and charter schools.
The State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, along with most of our public school districts and employees were in opposition to the move. It happened because Gov. Kevin Stitt fired and replaced a person to vote how he wanted them to vote. That isn’t a scandalous admission. It worked the way the governor wanted it to work.
The legislature might finally be ready to listen to at least one proposal, House Bill 1735, authored by Sheila Dills (R-Tulsa), that would be a kind of charter schools reform bill, adding provisions for contracts, performance framework, adding evaluations, making them subject to more transparency.
According to NonDoc’s Tres Savage, Dills and others were working to finalize the language of the bill and met Tuesday with charter representatives, who were worried that the changes would be too extreme.
The clock is ticking. Session adjourns May 28.
The thing is, maybe many charter schools could be considered public schools, but we need thoroughly fleshed out rules and regulations to ensure these charters can’t take more than necessary. Especially if there is lower overhead. Oklahoma’s public schools have to be transparent about money received, money spent and how much of that money makes it to the classroom. They should all have the same standards for student education, teacher expectations and administrative compensation.
If a charter school diverts money from a public school and uses that money to profit a private company, then we expect people who have the power to fix that issue, to actually use their power to fix the issue.
EDITOR'S NOTE: A correction was made to the bill's number.