A scathing 120-page audit of Epic Charter Schools provides several reasons to remove the motive of profit from Oklahoma's public school system.
State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd's investigative audit of the virtual charter school uncovered a "remarkably complex" infrastructure used to divert tens of millions of dollars toward a for-profit business controlled by three men. That money otherwise would have been steered to students in classrooms at traditional brick-and-mortar schools.
State auditors found about 10% of every tax dollar, or $45.9 million, went directly into the accounts of the for-profit management company, Epic Youth Services. The company, Byrd reports, spent $203,000 to expand its operations in California, and pledged Epic assets as collateral to secure loans to run the out-of-state for-profit venture.
While no criminal charges have been filed as a result of these findings, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation said its probe remains "very active." An OSBI representative told The Associated Press the findings included in Byrd's audit will be used by agents as they "unravel the many layers of this complicated and intricate investigation."
Officials at the charter school, of course, dispute Byrd's findings and dismissed her press conference as "political theatrics." They said the free public virtual school with statewide enrollment of about 46,000 students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade has much more to offer than traditional schools.
While it may have an advantage at distance learning during the pandemic because of its virtual learning background, allegations of embezzling millions of dollars and inflating enrollment figures raises too many red flags. Funding for our traditional schools is stretched thin already, and we should not gamble away the educational futures of our youth.
Of course, Epic must not shoulder all the blame — it seems clear oversight at the Oklahoma State Department of Education was lacking. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister described Byrd's findings as "deeply disturbing."
The lack of oversight of taxpayer funds is equally disturbing. Our public school students deserve better.