Following Epic Charter's $2.4M ad budget, proposed bill would ban tax dollar-funded school ads

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – New proposed legislation would ban Oklahoma schools from using tax dollars on advertising. It’s an issue one state senator is saying needs to be addressed, after learning Epic Charter Schools spends nearly $2.5 million on ads.

“One commercial after another was on, in August particularly, saying come to this virtual charter school,” said State Sen. Ron Sharp (R).

Sharp said he’s heard from constituents alarmed by the advertisements.

“They’re saying, ‘Where is this coming from?’ Is this our tax dollars paying for this? And when you say yes, then they say, well do something,” Sharp said.

According to Tulsa World, Epic Charter Schools spent $2.4 million on ads, most of it on television commercials.

In a state where recruiting students is becoming increasingly competitive, it’s something former school teacher Sharp takes issue with.

“When you’re using tax dollars of which to advertise to market, and a traditional public school, or even a traditional brick and mortar charter school cannot do that because they don’t have the money to do that,” Sharp said. “That’s when you run into problems.”

Earlier this week, Sharp introduced Senate Bill 1153, which would ban any school from using tax dollars on advertising. Violating the law would result in the school fined in the amount spent on the advertising plus 10 percent. Any person found guilty of violating the law would be guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to $1,000 and a year in jail.

Sharp said Epic Charter gets 97 percent of its funding from the state, and the other 3 percent comes from federal funding, so the proposed law would redirect millions for things he said are more important.

“There has to be some level of accountability when you’re discussing state funds,” he said.

Oklahoma State School Board Association executive director Shawn Hime warned that wording the bill poorly could prevent smaller districts from effectively providing information about schools to the public.

“The key to this will be first to have a conversation about how we define marketing and advertisement,” Hime said. “I think it’s very important that we don’t inhibit our schools from providing information to parents and stakeholders for the betterment of our students and schools because of perception of one or two bad apples.”

But Sharp said the bill was written to specifically address advertising like Epic’s.

“They can still recruit for teachers, they can still advertise for basic needs of the school, they just cannot use tax payer dollars of which to go out for the purposes of recruiting,” Sharp said.

News 4 made several attempts to reach a spokesperson for Epic Charter Schools Friday by phone and email, but have not yet gotten a response.

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