Allegations stemming from a state investigation of Epic Charter Schools are troubling and suggest a need for better state oversight.
In court filings this week, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation accuses the public virtual charter school of inflating its enrollment to unlawfully receive millions. Epic, the largest virtual charter in Oklahoma, denies the allegations.
The school receives taxpayer funds on a per-student basis. It claims to have an enrollment of about 20,000.
If the OSBI allegations prove to be true, it means millions were taken from other public schools during a time of historic state budget cuts to fund “ghost students” at Epic.
Problems with public virtual charters have emerged since their creation. Questions about how to verify students, provide fair funding and hold schools accountable for student performance have been ongoing struggles.
Epic officials have previously been criticized for funneling millions to a private management company owned by its founders. Epic officials will not say how the money was used. A law sponsored by Tulsa Rep. Sheila Dills now bans that arrangement.
It may be time to reconsider how virtual charter schools are regulated in Oklahoma.
Under state law, virtual charter schools are overseen by the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board. All other schools answer to the state Board of Education.
In light of the OSBI filings, we have to wonder if this division of authority is serving the best interests of education in Oklahoma.
Many school districts, including Tulsa Public Schools, offer online programs for students. The same local board provides oversight for the virtual program and brick-and-mortar schools. Why can’t the state do the same thing?
The Legislature should examine whether — in the name of efficiency and fairness — all public education ought to be under the Oklahoma Board of Education.
Virtual education has a place among education options, but it’s difficult to see why publicly funded online programs shouldn’t have to play by the same rules as the established site-based school districts and be judged by the same people.
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