State finds problem with Epic’s administrative bonuses and student attendance

The Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) announced Tuesday new findings into misappropriation of public funds at Epic Charter Schools.

After a seven-month investigation, the OSDE says it uncovered “significant problems including dubious attendance data that may have resulted in $780,000 in improperly obtained state funds and the improper disbursal of more than $8.5 million in bonuses to school administrators.”

>>>FULL OSDE REPORT INTO EPIC

“These payments appear to violate Oklahoma law,” State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said in a news conference.

Hofmeister says the report detailed one employee in particular who was employed for 35% of the school year, yet reportedly received six times more than their employment contract provided.

“It is clear that serious challenges remain. For the sake of the thousands of Oklahoma families and students who depend on Epic, it is critical that things be made right,” she said. “The students of Epic deserve an excellent education and the taxpayers of Oklahoma need Epic to fully comply with the law.”

The State Superintendent read from the report saying it showed 6,436 students in the 2020-21 school year were absent more than 50% of the time they were enrolled, and 3,399 students were absent more than 75% of the time.

“That’s larger than a lot of school districts in Oklahoma,” Hofmeister said.

The OSDE’s examination of Epic’s student attendance data revealed troubling patterns of students being absent 14 consecutive days, “present” for the 15th day and then absent for another 14 consecutive days. In the 2020-21 school year, there were 6,720 instances of this.

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation has been investigating Epic and its founders since 2013.

Concerns raised in this probe are in addition to those highlighted by State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd in a 2020 audit of Epic. That state audit, requested by Gov. Stitt and Superintendent Hofmeister, found widespread evidence of fraud and mismanagement that resulted in the State Board of Education recouping more than $9 million and the OSDE assessing more than $10 million in fines to Epic.

Hofmeister said she will recommend in the coming weeks that the State Board of Education place the virtual charter on probation and require it to undergo comprehensive corrective action.