State education officials pledged their assistance to investigators who have accused the operators of Oklahoma’s largest online school of embezzlement and racketeering.
In late February, the Tulsa World was the first to report that Epic Charter Schools was under investigation by state and federal authorities.
On Tuesday, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation filed records in Oklahoma County District Court revealing that it had seized evidence in its investigation of whether Epic had wrongly obtained millions of taxpayer dollars by falsely inflating its student enrollment figures.
“The OSBI served a search warrant last night in northwest Oklahoma City regarding our investigation into Epic Charter Schools. At this point, our investigation is ongoing,” said OSBI spokeswoman Brook Arbeitman.
State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister called the OSBI’s allegations “extremely serious and disturbing.”
“The State Department of Education stands ready to work with any criminal investigation to determine if public education and countless Oklahoma taxpayers have been defrauded of millions of dollars,” she said.
“In the meantime, it is important to let the legal system do its work. For the sake of Oklahoma students and families all across the state, we must ensure accountability of all education funding.
“We understand that today’s events may create confusion and stress for many students and families. They have our support.”
The World reported on Feb. 27 that the OSBI had confirmed through Beth Green, an assistant special agent in charge, that it was actively investigating Epic. And public records obtained by the World indicated that widespread accounts that some Epic Charter Schools students are dually enrolled in private schools appeared to be at least one line of inquiry by federal investigators from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of the Inspector General.
Epic denied all reports about the investigations, saying, “Epic has not been contacted by investigators and no federal agency has confirmed a probe of Epic is ongoing.”
Epic Assistant Superintendent Shelly Hickman pointed to the oversight of the state Education Department in defending the school after news of the OSBI’s allegations broke on Tuesday evening.
“We are audited by the Department of Education and state approved auditors each school year and are supremely confident that we operate our public school system within the boundaries of state and federal law,” Hickman said in a written statement. “Since our inception in 2011 we have time after time proven ourselves innocent of all allegations. We will again.”
Hickman added: “This latest attack comes at a time when our growth makes status quo education lobbying groups uncomfortable. We are considering legal action to combat what we believe is a coordinated effort to damage our school, our co-founders and our staff.”
Just last week, a member of the Oklahoma Senate’s Appropriations Subcommittee on Education announced that he had been trying in vain for months to find out from state education officials how Epic could have received millions of dollars in the last two years for 3,000 to 4,000 middle- and high-school students in Epic’s Blended Learning Centers in Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
State Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee, said that according to the school’s own website and an email from Hickman, which he shared publicly, Epic’s Blended Learning Centers can be attended only by students in early education and elementary school grades.