Virtual Charter Schools Poised To Be A Focus Of Education Debate This Season

Tuesday, January 28th 2020, 7:51 am
By: Grant Hermes

As the start of the 2020 legislative session draws near, the debate over Oklahoma’s virtual charter schools is poised to be a major focus for the year’s slate of education bills.

There are 10 bills this session taking up virtual charter schools with wide-ranging foci from how the schools are funded, how they count their students and to how they're overseen.

House Bill 1859 would eliminate the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board (SVCSB) shifting oversight to the State Board Of Education. 

House Bill 3066 would ban virtual charter schools from state money to advertise, an issue that was at the core of last year's scandal involving Epic Virtual charter schools, which spent millions on advertising. News 9 was a recipient of a portion of that advertising money for running ads on air.

House Bill 3065. caps funding per student at $3,500, and House Bill 3405 would make students worth 1 1/3 students for the first year.

Over the summer, the Epic scandal escalated after Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) called for an official state audit of Epic and its founders, Ben Harris and David Chaney, with whom Stitt had been photographed during the campaign. Both Harris and Chaney were high-dollar donors to several Oklahoma leaders including Stitt, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister and Attorney General Mike Hunter.

“Obviously you’re innocent until proven guilty, so these are just allegations. So I’ve asked the OSBI to give me a briefing on exactly what’s going on with their investigation. I’ll wait and see what the facts are.” Stitt told News 9 over the summer.

Epic is involved in one lawsuit with a parent who has a disagreement with the schools over private school enrollment. A previous version of this story suggested that litigation was related to allegations of "ghost students." That was not correct.

In a statement provided to News 9, Epic spokesperson Shelly Hickman said:

"Yes, there is a parent suing because they do not believe we should be required by the SVCSB to withdraw a student enrolled in a private school who is fulfilling all of the requirements at EPIC. However, that is not a 'ghost student' issue. 'Ghost student' was something alleged by the OSBI in a search warrant but proven false within 24 hours.

Epic is also suing State Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee, over statements he made against the school.

Read Related: Parents' Lawsuit Against Epic Charter Schools Delayed