Area school administrators are monitoring allegations that Epic Charter School inflated enrollment figures to get more state funding.
Fort Gibson School Superintendent Scott Farmer said he wants to see a thorough investigation.
"I know there has been some suspicion about their practices and the way they've done business," Farmer said. "I'm glad somebody's taking a look at it. If there is any impropriety, the legislature should reevaluate how they manage virtual charters."
According to an Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation search warrant filed Tuesday, Epic allegedly received Oklahoma Department of Education funds based on the number of students enrolled.
In the search warrant, the OSBI alleged that Epic co-founders Ben Harris and David Chaney inflated the number of students reported to the state by enrolling or retaining "ghost students." These ghost students were enrolled in EPIC, but received little or no instruction from program teachers, the search warrant said. The search warrant alleged that the two recruited ghost students from home-schooled families and private schools and that Harris and Chaney enticed families by offering them an annual learning fund between $800 and $1,000."
A story in the Oklahoman says Epic is an online charter school that receives state funding for each enrolled student. The story said a little less than 20,000 students were enrolled last year.
"We've got to correct this," said Muskogee School Superintendent Dr. Jarod Mendenhall said. "A ghost student is nothing more than them trying to make money off them. They weren’t even assigned a teacher."
Mendenhall said school districts lose funding when students enroll in charter schools. He said 108 students within the Muskogee school district enrolled in Epic last school year. That departure cost MPS $619,142 in state funding.
He also criticized Epic's program.
“You cannot put a computer in a child’s hand and then not give them any instruction,” Mendenhall said. “That’s what Epic has really done. They provided a computer and materials. You choose your own curriculum, but you’re basically on your own.”
Farmer said the state has an obligation "to protect taxpayer dollars."
"If they are paying for students that don't exist at Epic, that comes out of the same pot of money that we get," he said. "If more is going to Epic than should go, that's coming out of my district."
Farmer said he cannot say exactly how many students the district lost to the virtual school.
"If somebody moves into Fort Gibson and enrolls in Epic, they don't have to tell us," he said. "In the past, they would have to tell us and we would have to do a transfer."
Hilldale Superintendent Erik Puckett said he couldn't say if the allegations are true or false.
"I do suspect and I do hope that if the allegations are true, I hope they follow the law and deal with them as they would anyone who misuses taxpayer money," he said.
Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister tweeted that the OSBI allegations are "extremely serious, disturbing."
"OKDSDE stands ready to work w/any criminal investigation to determine if OklaED and taxpayers have been defrauded of millions of dollars," Hofmeister's tweet said."It is important to let the legal system do its work."
Epic Assistant Superintendent of Communications Shelly Hickman said the online school will be proven innocent.
"We are audited by the State Department of Education and state approved auditors each year and are supremely confident that we operate our school system within the boundaries of state and federal law," Hickman said. "Since our inception in 2011, we have time after time proven ourselves innocent of all allegations. We will again."