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John Thompson writes here about yet another virtual charter scam, this one in Oklahoma.
After years of failing to regulate charters, especially online and for-profit charters, Oklahoma is just one state that illustrates how hard it is to catch up and hold virtual schools accountable for either education outcomes or financial transactions.
In July 2019, according to an Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation search warrant, “[Epic’s co-founders] enticed ghost students to enroll in Epic by offering each student an annual learning fund ranging from $800 to $1,000.” This was despite the fact that Epic knew that the parents of many homeschool students “enrolled their children . . . to receive the $800 learning fund without any intent to receive instruction.”
Epic’s recruitment of “ghost students,” who were technically enrolled but received minimal instruction from teachers, allowed the company to legally divert state funds for their own personal use, while simultaneously hiding low graduation rates to attract more support.
This year, Epic has received over $100 million in taxpayer money. And the company, in an exposé by the Tulsa World, admitted that over the years its “Learning Fund”—which is shielded from public scrutiny—received $50.6 million from the Oklahoma State Department of Education.
Tulsa World estimates the Learning Fund could cost the state about $28 million for 2019-2020. Moreover, the private management company Epic Youth Services receives a “10 percent cut” of the charter’s student funding. Also, state appropriations pay for the millions that Epic spends on advertising and generous contributions to elected officials.
If nothing else, Epic is helping to nail down the case that charters are a tool for privatization.