UNDER SCRUTINY: Oklahoma charter operator with potential deal in PUlaski county, has turned up in a federal investigation.

The Pulaski County Special School District Board voted earlier this month to contract with Epic Charter Schools of Oklahoma to provide online K-12 schooling that would produce some dough for the district and charter operator, too. Oops. They are under investigation in Oklahoma.

The Tulsa World reported that Epic, which is a statewide online charter with three education “centers,” is under “active” investigation for unspecified reasons for the second time.

Public records indicate that widespread accounts that some Epic Charter Schools students are dually enrolled in private schools appear to be at least one line of inquiry by federal investigators.

A host of new bills have been generated at the state Capitol, seeking everything from a greater share of public dollars for such popular charter schools to imposing some of the same requirements and restrictions traditional public schools face onto charters, which are deregulated public schools of choice operated by independent governing boards.

Epic was founded by two Oklahoma City men, Ben Harris and David Chaney, under a nonprofit corporation by the name of Community Strategies.

But Harris and Chaney, Epic’s superintendent, are both owners of Epic Youth Services LLC, a separate company with which the school contracts for its operation. That contract indicates an annual cost of $125,000 for “development services” plus a 10 percent share of the school’s collected revenues as an “indirect cost allocation.”

To put that 10 percent into context, Epic Charter Schools has been allocated $112.9 million in state aid funding alone for fiscal year 2019.

“We don’t think that our private company should have to make any disclosures that any other private company shouldn’t have just because who our customers are,” Harris told the Tulsa World on Tuesday.

According to the Democrat-Gazette, the Pulaski school board talked about growing Epic’s program statewide after initially focusing on enlisting home schoolers. Each signup is worth more than $6,000 per child in state aid. Epic would hire some people and provide some material. They’d get 90 percent of the cash. Pulaski would get a 10 percent commission. These virtual schools build no buildings, run no buses, have no gyms and don’t have staff commensurate with real schools. Of course, Pulaski might loan Epic some of their taxpayer-financed premises to help them out. There might be some combined class/home learning.

But really, what’s the big deal? Who’s ever heard of a scandal in charter school operation? Who’s ever had concern that the private management corporations cloak operations from public accountability? Who’s ever heard of a charter school making money disappear — unaccounted for — and fail to educate students at the same time?

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Just ask the Waltons or the Democrat-Gazette about the superiority of charter schools over FAILING (you must always use that word) real public schools. It’s McCarthy tactics, to use charter school lawyer Jess Askew’s description, to demand accountability of a place like, say, Covenant Keepers.

By the way: Are we really going to have to wait for a state audit for accountability for the money reportedly drained from the cratered Covenant Keepers charter school by a former employee, Valerie Tatum? Or does she get off on that like she got away with her seemingly ineligible run for city board and her shoddy campaign bookkeeping? Since the Waltons put up the money to bail this failed school out, maybe they should share a few of their considerable dollars to make taxpayers whole on this misbegotten public school “competitor”? And maybe they’d hire an independent lawyer to see exactly what Epic has in store for Pulaski County. Is this really about education. Or just  profits?

Not to worry. Pulaski School District, the D-G reported, will work with the Arkansas Public School Resource Center. FYI: that’s a Walton-funded organization dedicated to zealous advocacy of anything charter? It worked with Covenant Keepers, by the way.

Like the Waltons, Epic understands the beauty of mass merchandising. From the Tulsa World:

Its reach in recent years continues to expand beyond its own Oklahoma programs. Epic also operates in Orange County, California, runs the Panola Public School District in Latimer County, provides instruction to most of Thunderbird Youth Academy’s residents in Pryor and just this month entered contract negotiations to provide online education beginning this fall in Pulaski County, Arkansas.

Former Gov. Mary Fallin previously requested an investigation into 2013 allegations of fraud. About a year later, the OSBI turned over its findings to the Attorney General’s Office, but no charges were filed against Epic and no announcement was ever made about the case.

The Tulsa World story indicates there’s a question of whether some of the tax money flowing to Epic could be supporting students in private schools.

State Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee, said virtual charter schools are a hot topic this legislative session because of their “explosive growth” the last couple of years and the unintended financial toll that growth is exacting on traditional public schools.

Fond memory. With some legislative sleight-of-hand as a senator, now-Education Commissioner Johnny Key engineered an enormous growth in the enrollment cap for “virtual charter” students in Arkansas. The cap went from 500 to 3,000 students, growth worth more than $15 million in state aid annually. There’s money to be made at that rate without the facility and personnel costs that real public schools face.

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We’ve heard this song before.

See: Epic spends heavily on political contributions.

See also: Explosive growth, multiple investigations, questions about achievement legal issues.

In short: This game (in Oklahoma or Arkansas) might be legal, but it doesn’t mean its sound policy, sound education or efficient use of public money.