OKLAHOMA CITY - Officials with EPIC Charter Schools are responding to an investigation by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.
News 4 confirmed back in February the OSBI is investigating the company that runs online and brick and mortar charter programs in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. It's believed more than 23,000 Oklahoma kids attend Epic schools in some fashion.
Shelly Hickman, Assistant Superintendent of Communications for EPIC Charter Schools released the following statement:
“We are audited by the Department of Education and state-approved auditors each school year and are supremely confident that we operate our public school system within the boundaries of state and federal law. Since our inception in 2011, we have, time after time, proven ourselves innocent of all allegations. We will again. This latest attack comes at a time when our growth makes status quo education lobbying groups uncomfortable. We are considering legal action to combat what we believe is a coordinated effort to damage our school, our co-founders and our staff.”
News 4 talked with Katherine Bishop, vice president of the Oklahoma Education Association in February after the investigation first came to light.
"We are even finding out that some of them are dual-enrolled in Epic and also in a private school, so here are public tax dollars possibly going to tuition for the private school or for outside activities as well," Bishop said.
The company took in more than $41 million in education funds in 2017. They will receive a reported $112 million in 2019.
"For every student of which they recruit, 200 is added to their bonus fund which appears to be a pyramid scheme to attract more students," Ron Sharp, state Senator from Shawnee and a former educator told News 4 in February.
Today, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister tweeted,
"These allegations are extremely serious, disturbing. @OKSDE stands ready to work w/any criminal investigation to determine if #OklaEd and taxpayers have been defrauded of millions of dollars. It is important to let the legal system do its work."
Minority Leader Emily Virgin (D-Norman) released the following statement in response to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation launching an investigation of Epic Charter Schools for embezzling millions of taxpayer dollars:
"I am very concerned about the report that Epic Charter Schools has been paying students and their families to enroll so that the school can profit from taxpayer money. I am glad to see that the OSBI is taking this matter seriously. If the OSBI shows that these individuals did indeed defraud Oklahoma taxpayers, I would hope that Attorney General Mike Hunter would see past their wealth and their campaign donations and hold them accountable. I hope that my colleagues in the House will take these allegations seriously as well. If we have a school that is defrauding the state to this magnitude, at a minimum, it shows a systematic flaw exists in the regulation of online and charter schools in our state. If the OSBI shows this to be true, the House must act to ensure that public funds are safeguarded today and in the future. "
This is not the first time Epic has come under the legal spotlight.
In 2013, then Gov. Mary Fallin requested the OSBI investigate fraud allegations. The state Attorney General never brought charges.