TULSA, Okla. — The state's largest charter school is at the center of an investigation of an investigation by the State Department of Education.
State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said the investigation into Epic Charter Schools reveals serious problems that may have led to more than eight and a half million dollars in misspending.
The State Department of Education said the investigation raises serious concerns about how administrators at Epic Charter Schools handled many things, from governance, enrollment, and attendance, to excessive bonuses.
“Nearly 8.6 million in bonus compensation was improperly paid to Epic administrators on June 7th, 2021, again, in violation of state law,” Oklahoma State Superintendent, Joy Hofmeister said.
The State Board of Education called out Epic Charter school board members after an investigation found school leaders misused taxpayer dollars, violated state law, and fostered an environment of fear among staff. The State Department of Education launched the investigation after a complain from a former member of Epic's governing board, Community Strategies Inc.
Leaders said enrollment is the most alarming issue. Nearly five thousand students reported being absent for 14 days, present for the 15th day, and absent for the next 14 days.
"According to state law, a virtual charter school student must be dropped from the rolls and considered truant if they do not complete an instructional activity for 15 consecutive days," Hofmeister said. "It appears, epic may have intentionally created an algorithm to adapt to the new law in such a way that a large number of students were never absent on the 15th day, we're not dropped from enrollment, and Epic continued to receive funding for these students.
Hofmeister said it appears Epic misallocated nearly $800,000 dollars.
She said the investigation also revealed the Superintendent and two other Epic staff improperly gave excessive compensation to employees without board approval. The investigation indicates Epic provided some reasoning for why certain bonuses exceeded contract amounts, but all of them violated state law.
The State Superintendent said the report sheds light on serious problems with Epic leadership and raises concerns about how these violations impacted student learning.
“We know that many of our children have had setbacks over the last couple of years, and we would be very deeply troubled to not see advancement or growth. When you see a number like you see here, 6400 students that are absent 50 percent of the time, that’s larger than a lot of school districts in Oklahoma, the entire district, you know, so this is a large number of children and of course as parents we would be very concerned,” Hofmeister said.
This is not the first time epic has been investigated. The investigation comes after a separate state audit found misspending by former founders.
Oklahoma State Superintendent,Hofmeister, said next month she recommended to the State Board of Education that Epic be placed on probation.
2 News Oklahoma reached out to Epic Charter Schools for comment, but were unable to reach anyone.
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