Lawmakers filed a number of bills that would rein in virtual charter schools, and others that failed to make progress during the 2019 legislative session after being filed to achieve similar ends could be revived this year.
With enrollment in those schools soaring and the amount of funds being siphoned from public schools escalating accordingly, these proposed reforms are past due. It is likely we won't know everything there is to know about Epic Charter Schools — the state's largest virtual school — until after the legislative session due to the state's lax oversight of these nontraditional institutions.
While Epic officials deny allegations that it has received state funding for "ghost students" who actually receive little to no instruction, the charter school is the subject of a state investigation. The school reportedly spent nearly $2.5 million in 2019 for promotional advertising.
Bills filed this year target both of those issues and others that, according to the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, "continue to plague virtual charter schools." That organization argues there is an urgent need of critical reforms to "ensure this unique model is serving children well," and Oklahoma's history with virtual learning seems to indicate the same.
Virtual charter schools have the potential to tailor learning to students who in certain circumstances might excel outside the traditional classroom setting. For instance, more advanced students may become bored when teachers slow the pace of instruction to accommodate all students, and they offer an alternative when safety is an overriding concern.
But oversight is mandatory for all situations to ensure our youth get the education they deserve from public schools, and that is the best education possible at all times. Lawmakers must carefully scrutinize and support the reforms necessary to hold virtual charter schools accountable.