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Epic Charter Schools retains accreditation amid ongoing investigation

OKLAHOMA CITY – Amid calls for an investigative audit, the state’s largest virtual charter school has been accredited by the Oklahoma State Board of Education.

On Thursday, the Oklahoma State Board of Education went into executive session to discuss Epic Charter Schools. The board did not say what was discussed in executive session, but agreed to keep Epic’s accreditation, meaning the charter school will still receive state funding.

“We will continue to cooperate with investigators, as we have throughout the history of our school.  We are confident the facts will once again vindicate our team. In the meantime, we will continue to serve the more than 23,000 students and families who have chosen EPIC,” a statement from EPIC founders David Chaney and Ben Harris read.

Earlier this week, officials announced that Epic Charter Schools was under investigation for allegedly embezzling millions in state funding by illegally inflating enrollment numbers.

According to a search warrant filed in Oklahoma County court this week, Epic Charter Schools co-founders David Chaney and Ben Harris “acting jointly and together, devised a scheme to use their positions as public officers to unlawfully derive profits from state-appropriated funds.”

Investigators allege Chaney and Harris split the profit from Epic Youth Services (EYS) of at least $10 million between 2013 and 2018.

Epic received state appropriated funds from the Oklahoma State Department of Education based on the number of students enrolled, court documents state.

Harris and Chaney are accused of retaining “ghost students,” or students enrolled with Epic Charter Schools but received little or no instruction from their teachers. Investigators believe the students were recruited from home-schooled families and private and sectarian schools.

“Ben Harris and David Chaney enticed ghost students to enroll in Epic by offering each student an annual learning fund ranging from $800 and $1,000,” court documents state.

EPIC’s Assistant Superintendent, Shelly Hickman responded to the inquiry with the following statement:

“We will fully cooperate with the governor’s request for Oklahoma Auditor & Inspector Cindy Byrd to conduct an audit of EPIC and we agree to bear the cost of that audit. We welcome this as an opportunity to once again prove to the public that our school follows the law in our service to the Oklahoma public school children and Oklahoma families we serve.”

Governor Kevin Stitt and State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister are calling for an investigative audit of Epic Charter Schools and all related entities.  Officials are asking auditors to look back over three years and analyze previous audits.

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