State lawmakers are discussing their next move in the wake of allegations that Epic Charter Schools embezzled millions of dollars. One lawmaker wants to cut Epic off completely.
Epic Charter Schools get over $70 million per year in taxpayer funding. Senator Ron Sharp (R) Shawnee said the state shouldn’t cut another check until there is a full audit.
“The way the virtual charter act was set up there’s virtually no accountability,” said Senator Sharp.
And with that, Senator Sharp said, no answers. He said he has been trying to get information on Epics financials for two years but is continuously stonewalled by the Department of Education.
“It has been a problem trying to get this information. And the vagueness of their answers,” said Senator Sharp. “I was trying to determine exactly who is at fault. Is it the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s problem with not providing oversight? We were critical of the Health Department board for its lack of oversight. This appears to be more problematic than that.”
This could be one of the reasons. Epic has donated tens of thousands of dollars to political campaigns that include Governor Kevin Stitt, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister and Attorney General Mike Hunter, plus dozens of legislators.
“A lot of that I think is due to campaign donations frankly. I think that Epic has given money to a lot of different elected officials, and that makes a lot of elected officials a little more hesitant to look closely at this situation,” said Representative Emily Virgin (D) House Minority Leader.
Senator Sharp also wants an investigation into the Department of Education. He said if these allegations are true, the Department of Education should have caught this years ago.
“They definitely, it appears as though they dropped the ball,” said Senator Sharp.
“I think this investigation needs to be fast tracked. I think the attorney general’s office needs to get involved and put every resource into it, so that we can figure out prior to august first what’s going on here,” said Representative Virgin.
“This could be just the tip of the iceberg,” Senator Sharp added. “We’re talking about millions. We’re talking about federal funds.”
A spokesperson from the governor’s office sent News 9 the following statement:
“The governor has requested for his office to receive a briefing on the OSBI investigation. As we dig into this matter, the governor is committed to ensuring accountability and transparency with Oklahomans’ hard-earned tax dollars, most importantly in our public education system. If there were loop holes used or laws broken, the governor is committed to working with the legislature to address it. At the same time, this should not become an assault on alternative public education opportunities that are emerging across our state, in various school districts. The governor believes Oklahoma can be a leader on innovating and modernizing the delivery of public education to best meet the needs of children today and to better prepare them for the future workforce. Oklahoma has already done so by becoming one of the first states to implement public Pre-K, and the governor is committed to seeing public education deliver new, forward-thinking solutions that consider each child’s unique needs. This must be accomplished with transparency and measurable results for the taxpayers.”
The Oklahoma Attorney Gener's Office sent the following statement:
There has been an ongoing review of issues involving Epic Charter Schools by the Office of the Oklahoma Attorney General and the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation for the last several years.
Attorney General Hunter spoke with OSBI Director Ricky Adams this morning and advised him, as in any investigation, that the OSBI should follow the evidence where it leads and recommitted our office’s support of his agency’s efforts.
The Attorney General’s Office has never viewed this as a closed matter.