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Latimer County News-Tribune

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Latimer County News-Tribune

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McCurtain Daily Gazette

Aug
23

2019

Page
002
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Investigators raid
online Oklahoma
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charter school’s vendor


OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) against Epic co-founder and
— State investigators have former superintendent David
raided a vendor for an online Chaney, chief financial officer
Oklahoma charter school Josh Brock, and two present
whose enrollment, funding and two former board mem-
and some of its leaders are at bers.
the center of an investigation.
Agents from the Oklahoma No charges have been filed,
State Bureau of Investigation and Epic and its leadership
searched the home of a man have denied any wrongdoing.
who runs a nonprofit that Epic attorney Chuck
works with Epic Charter Richardson said the school
Schools to provide coaching and its officials will continue
services for sports. The search to cooperate with investiga-
warrant affidavit filed tors.
Wednesday raises new allega- The State Bureau of
tions of embezzlement, for- Investigation declined com-
gery and other violations ment

orig.pdf 1 26-Aug-19 19:50:42

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Durant Daily Democrat

Epic school, or epic fail? lawsuit filed by several Then most dramatical- and other virtual charter
L

i
d
BY DAVID BLATT r
OkPolicy.org Epic teachers alleging that ly, in July, the Oklahoma schools, but this year saw o
the school has, for years, State Bureau of Investi- passage of HB 1395 that p
It has not, to put it mildly, encouraged teachers to gation filed an affidavit will hold virtual char- m
been a good couple months push for the withdrawal of against Chaney and Harris ter schools to the same t
for David Chaney and Ben low-performing students alleging them of embez- financial reporting require- t
Harris, co-founders of Epic to help improve its perfor- zling more than $10 million ments as brick and mortar F
Charter Schools, Oklaho- mance measures. between 2013 and 2018. The schools. It also requires
ma’s largest virtual charter A week later, an Okla- main accusations involve charter management orga- a
school. homan article revealed enrolling “ghost students,” nizations like Epic Youth m
Launched in 2011, Epic that over one-quarter some of whom are also Services to detail how it o
has enjoyed explosive of Epic’s students were home-schooled or attend- spends money on behalf of d
growth. It enrolled over automatically disenrolled ing private schools. Epic is the school and adds some o
21,000 students in 2018-19, for missing ten consec- also being investigated by additional safeguards. We F
making it larger than the utive school days, more the FBI and federal Depart- can expect the 2020 legisla-
s
state’s fifth largest school than double the statewide ment of Education. Chaney tive session to include ad-
e
district. It operates online average, a pattern that also and Harris have benefitted ditional reform measures,
programs statewide and artificially aids the school’s through their control of including efforts to either t
three centers that blend assessment on annual A-F Epic Youth Services, a abolish the Statewide
virtual and in-person report cards. Even so, Epic for-profit affiliate that re- Virtual Charter School p
learning in Oklahoma City high school received an F ceives 10 percent of Epic’s Board or place it under T
and Tulsa. in overall performance on total revenue to provide its the authority of the State
Epic’s growth has been their 2018-18 school report management services – an Department of Education. k
fueled by aggressive mar- card, while the middle amount now exceeding $11 We are also seeing more
keting campaigns, bonuses school earned a C and ele- million a year. public school districts
c
and gifts to help recruit mentary school earned a D. So far no criminal develop their own virtual
s
students, and teacher Next came a press charges have been filed alternatives. Recently, the
contracts with bonuses release from State Sen. and Epic has strenuously Cooperative Council for p
that allow its highest-paid Ron Sharp questioning denied all accusations of Oklahoma School Adminis- e
teachers to reach annual why Epic’s blended charter wrongdoing. tration launched the Blend-
pay of over $100,000. This school have received state Until recently, the ed Learning Framework, t
growth has now attracted funding allocations for Legislature and State which includes guidelines t
intense scrutiny of its busi- grade levels the school has Department of Education for selecting and training
ness model and operations. acknowledged it did not have been slow to enact teachers, recommendations c
In June, Oklahoma provide instruction for over appropriate oversight and T
SEE EPIC, PAGE 7 p
Watch reported on a two years. accountability over Epic

Property of OPS News Tracker and members of the Oklahoma Press Association.
Durant Daily Democrat

Aug
EPIC
24 CONTINUED FROM PAGE 3
2019

Page
A07 for identifying students
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126%
From blended/virtual envi-
A03
ronment, and guidelines
for choosing beneficial
technology resources.
High demand for virtual
and blended education
suggests they fill a need
to serve students who
don’t respond well in
traditional classroom
settings. But the lesson of
Epic suggests that when
schools are operated as
profit-making ventures,
the interest of students
won’t come first.

Blatt is Executive Director of


Oklahoma Policy Institute,
okpolicy.org

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Muskogee Phoenix

Aug
24

2019 State probe of Epic expands to CFO, board


By Jennifer Palmer founders will continue to cooperate structional services.”
Page Oklahoma Watch with investigators, who have now Rebecca Wilkinson, executive
A002 been probing the school for more director of the Statewide Virtual
Clip OKLAHOMA CITY — A state than six years. It is important to Charter School Board, told the OS-
resized investigation into Epic Charter note that no charges have ever been BI agent that instructional expen-
48% Schools has expanded to include filed. We are confident that the end ditures “must be a course supported
the school’s chief financial officer result of this investigation will be by a teacher of record, a recorded
and four current or former board as it has always been — no finding grade and included on the tran-
members, according to a search of wrongdoing.” script,” the affidavit states. In many
warrant filed in Oklahoma County Epic is the only virtual school cases, these weren’t. The agent cites
Wednesday. in Oklahoma that uses a learning a statute he says is evidence the
In the affidavit for the search fund — essentially a portion of school committed fraud.
warrant, an Oklahoma State Bu- each student’s state funding ($800 The agent in the affidavit accuses
reau of Investigation agent alleges to $1,000) that is set aside to be Chaney and Brock of concealing
Epic has been using state-appro- used on curriculum, a laptop rental, fraudulent expenditures “by dis-
priated funds to pay for students’ art supplies, workbooks and other guising the payments as instruc-
extracurricular expenses through items of the family’s choos- tional services” and falsify-
independent vendors but reported ing. Families also use the ing corporate records.
those expenditures to the state as funds on a variety of extra- This search warrant
“instructional services,” which the curricular activities, like is the second in as many
OSBI agent alleges is fraud. club sports, martial arts, months filed by OSBI. In
Named in the affidavit are Josh dancing or summer camps. July, the agents seized an
Brock, the school’s CFO, who Parents don’t actually Epic teacher’s computer
made the purchases, as well as receive the money direct- and cell phone in search of
Doug Scott, Travis Burkett, Mike ly but instead request a evidence related to alleged
Cantrell and Peter Regan, who purchase from Epic, which embezzlement of state
are being investigated for alleged- then pays the vendors funds and obtaining money
ly neglecting their duty as board directly. The school now has more under false pretenses, including
members to oversee the school’s than 1,200 vendors. through the use of “ghost students”
operations. According to the affidavit, Epic who didn’t actually receive instruc-
The search warrant was first re- in 2012 was advised by an attorney tion through the school.
ported by the Tulsa World. for its sponsoring school district at The school’s co-founders, Chaney
OSBI on Wednesday seized a the time, Graham-Dustin Public and Ben Harris, split profits of $10
laptop and bank statements from Schools, that using the learning million between 2013 and 2018,
OKC Storm Athletics, a Christian fund for extracurricular activities that affidavit states.
. sports vendor for home-school stu- when the students received no elec- OSBI’s investigation into Epic
dents, according to its website. Epic tive credit would violate state law. has been ongoing since 2013. When
pays vendors for student activities David Chaney, a businessman it’s complete, the agency is expected
through what Epic calls its “Learn- who co-founded the school, then to present its findings to Oklahoma
ing Fund.” opened a checking account for the County District Attorney’s Office for
The affidavit is the latest in an learning fund and transferred state possible filing of criminal charges.
th
th ongoing investigation into financial funds to it, which Brock used to In addition, the school is under-
th wrongdoing at the state’s largest pay for students’ extracurricular going an investigative audit by the
th virtual charter school. activities, the affidavit states. Those State Auditor & Inspector, and at
th Epic has denied any wrongdoing, purchases did not appear on Epic’s least two federal probes — by Fed-
th and on Wednesday afternoon issued general fund payment register and eral Bureau of Investigation and
th a statement saying, “Epic and its were reported to the state as “in- U.S. Department of Education.

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Stillwater NewsPress

State investigation of Epic expands to CFO, Board


By Jennifer Palmer gas company in Ada, is a cur-
Oklahoma Watch rent board member and Scott,
a Tulsa attorney, is chairman.
A state investigation into Burkett and Regan are no lon-
Epic Charter Schools has ex- ger on the board.
panded to include the school’s This search warrant is the
chief financial officer and four second in as many months
current or former board mem- filed by the OSBI. In July, the
bers, according to a search agents seized an Epic teach-
warrant filed in Oklahoma er’s computer and cell phone
County on Wednesday. in search of evidence related
In the affidavit for the to alleged embezzlement of
search warrant, an Oklahoma state funds and obtaining
State Bureau of Investigation money under false pretenses,
agent alleges Epic has been including through the use of
using state-appropriated funds “ghost students” who didn’t
to pay for students’ extra- WHITNEY BRYEN/OKLAHOMA WATCH actually receive instruction
curricular expenses through A sign is seen outside of 50 Penn Place in Oklahoma City, where Epic Charter Schools leases through the school.
independent vendors but re- 40,000 square feet for administrative use. The school’s co-founders,
ported those expenditures to Chaney and Ben Harris, split
the state as “instructional ser- doing, and on Wednesday the vendors directly. The tional services.” profits of $10 million between
vices,” which the OSBI agent afternoon issued a statement school now has more than Rebecca Wilkinson, execu- 2013 and 2018, that affidavit
alleges is fraud. saying, “Epic and its found- 1,200 vendors. tive director of the Statewide states.
Named in the affidavit are ers will continue to cooperate The learning fund is a big Virtual Charter School Board, The OSBI’s investigation
Josh Brock, the school’s CFO, with investigators, who have recruitment tool to attract told the OSBI agent instruc- into Epic has been ongoing
who made the purchases, as now been probing the school families, and families who tional expenditures “must be a since 2013. When it’s com-
well as Doug Scott, Travis for more than six years. It refer new students are re- course supported by a teacher plete, the agency is expected
Burkett, Mike Cantrell and is important to note that no warded with an additional de- of record, a recorded grade to present its findings to the
Peter Regan, who are being charges have ever been filed. posit into their student’s fund. and included on the tran- Oklahoma County district
investigated for allegedly ne- We are confident that the end According to the affidavit, script,” the affidavit states. attorney for possible filing of
glecting their duty as board result of this investigation will Epic in 2012 was advised In many cases, these weren’t. criminal charges.
members to oversee the be as it has always been – no by an attorney for its spon- The agent cites a statute he In addition, the school is
school’s operations. finding of wrongdoing.” soring school district at the says is evidence the school undergoing an investigative
The search warrant was Epic is the only virtual time, Graham-Dustin Public committed fraud. audit by the State Auditor &
first reported by the Tulsa school in Oklahoma that uses Schools, that using the learn- The agent in the affidavit Inspector, and at least two
World. a “learning fund’ – essentially ing fund for extracurricular accuses Chaney and Brock federal probes – by the Fed-
The OSBI on Wednesday a portion of each student’s activities when the students of concealing fraudulent ex- eral Bureau of Investigation
seized a laptop and bank state funding ($800 to $1,000) received no elective credit penditures “by disguising the and the U.S. Department of
statements from OKC Storm that is set aside to be used on would violate state law. payments as instructional ser- Education.
Athletics, a Christian sports curriculum, a laptop rental, David Chaney, a business- vices” and falsifying corporate The school is also facing a
vendor for home-school stu- art supplies, workbooks, and man who co-founded the records. potential lawsuit by several
dents, according to its website. other items of the family’s school, then opened a checking The OSBI agent reported at former teachers, who say they
Epic pays vendors for student choosing. Families also use account for the learning fund least two instances when Epic were pressured into withdraw-
activities through what Epic the funds on a variety of ex- and transferred state funds used vendors who were con- ing and re-enrolling students
calls its “Learning Fund.” tracurricular activities, like to it, which Brock used to pay victed felons. to manipulate enrollment to
The affidavit is the latest in club sports, martial arts, for students’ extracurricular The OSBI is also investigat- improve the school’s report
an ongoing investigation into dancing or summer camps. activities, the affidavit states. ing whether Burkett, Cantrell, card grade.
financial wrongdoing at the Parents don’t actually re- Those purchases did not ap- Regan and Scott neglected Oklahoma Watch is a a non-
state’s largest virtual charter ceive the money directly but pear on Epic’s general fund their duties as board mem- profit media organization that
school. instead request a purchase payment register and were re- bers in violation of the law. covers significant public policy
Epic has denied any wrong- from Epic, which then pays ported to the state as “instruc- Cantrell, head of an oil and issues facing the state.

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