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State finds issues in attendance, millions in unapproved bonuses at Epic Charter Schools

Posted at 3:10 PM, Jun 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-22 11:37:28-04

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma State Department of Education announced its findings in the investigation of Epic Charter Schools on Tuesday.

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister made the announcement at a news conference in Oklahoma City.

“It is unfortunate and disappointing that Epic, despite a number of positive changes made, remains an entity fraught with poor transparency and questionable practices,” Hofmeister said. “Meaningful engagement of students seems less important to Epic than ensuring high numbers of kids remain on the rolls to keep funds flowing. I am hopeful the State Board of Education will recognize the severity of these problems and that Epic’s leadership will act urgently on the recommendations laid out in the investigative report.”

The virtual school district already had to repay millions of dollars in 2021 after the state auditor found Epic had been misusing its funding which comes directly from Oklahoma taxpayers.

The State Department of Education found three primary issues with the district in its investigation that comes in addition to the previous findings from the state auditor:

  • Governance
  • Enrollment and attendance reporting
  • Improper, unapproved and excessive payments to administrative staff

The state's report says Epic did not properly report its changes in attendance and absences from 2019 through 2021, resulting in hundreds of thousands of state dollars being misallocated to Epic.

  • From the 2019-20 school year to the 2020-21 school year, total absences increased from 18,275 to 647,624 (a 3,443.8 percent increase).
  • For the 2020-21 school year, nearly 9 percent of all students enrolled in Epic (6,436 students) were absent more than half of the time they were enrolled. Almost 5 percent (3,399) were absent more than 75 percent of the time they were enrolled. - State Department of Education

The reports says millions of dollars in bonuses for administrators went through that weren't approved by Epic's governing board, which is required by state law. More than $8.5 million in bonuses were given out in addition to other bonuses that violated state law in being more than employee contracts allowed for.

Those bonuses included $67,500 that Epic Superintendent Bart Banfield approved for himself and $34,167 for his wife, also an Epic employee.

Hofmeister says she will recommend to the State Board of Education that the district be placed on probation and required to undergo "comprehensive corrective action." The findings will be turned over to law enforcement to determine any further action.

The board is expected to discuss the report in their meeting on Thursday.

Here is the full report provided by the state:

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