OKALHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The state of Oklahoma’s multi-county grand jury released a 25-page interim report Thursday, slamming Epic Charter School’s operations, which has now become the largest public school district in the state of Oklahoma.
The documents allege the Epic organization has been able to profit off the backs of Oklahoma children as school districts across the state continue to crumble coming out of the pandemic. Among the key overriding concerns listed were “a lack of oversight,” “a lack of transparency” and “a lack of accountability.”
The investigation, though, is far from over. According to the report, not only did jurors not have enough time to fully investigate, but it also notes a willful lack of cooperation and an intentional avoidance to disclose information.
Millions of taxpayers and millions of dollars are involved in the descriptive details dropped by the grand jury. One former state senator who took a stand against the school said he saw this coming years ago.
“It’s exactly right on target of what I said,” former state Sen. Ron Sharp said. “It was obvious that it was not good what they were doing.”
Sharp is sticking with his long-time stance against Epic Charter School’s operations, following the 25-page report. They cite a slew of concerns, the chief among those being when they state that Epic’s system is “ripe for fraud.”
“They were just violating every statute, every single administrative code and every contract agreement in which they made,” Sharp said. “In doing this, they were making millions.”
The outspoken opponent of the school’s operations is still facing defamation lawsuits for speaking out against Epic beginning in the summer of 2019. Sharp claimed his fight against the organization ultimately cost not only his bid for reelection, but also a role on the Oklahoma State Senate Education Appropriations Committee.
“They did everything they could to destroy me politically,” he said.
Thursday’s report showed that between 2015 and 2020, the state and federally funded schools received $458 million. The documents state that without proper oversight “the entities responsible have allowed significant public funds to be diverted into private accounts without transparency.”
“Every opportunity that they had of which to make money, they were taking advantage of that system,” Sharp said.
The school fired back with a statement of their own that can be read in full below:
“Epic’s Board of Education has since October 2020 made significant corrective actions, including Epic Youth Services no longer operationally or financially managing or controlling the school. The school itself has fully cooperated in providing public records. We will continue to fully cooperate in sharing any information we have with the grand jury.”SHELLY HICKMAN, ASSISTANT SUPERINTENDENT, EPIC CHARTER SCHOOLS
Epic Youth Services, or EYS for short, is a for-profit company related to the organization. The documents state they filed a slew of lawsuits to deny access to the public funds that were put in private accounts. The report also claims EYS received a 10 percent management fee to help run the schools. That fee has generated nearly $46 million since 2015. Allegedly, all of it goes into the pockets of Epic’s two founders.
“We had to raise taxes in 2018, of which to provide teachers a pay increase,” Sharp said. “We’re talking about more than that going into the pockets of these two individuals.”
The grand jury called the relationship between entities in the operation “incestuous.” They state in the documents that the system has failed to provide accountability and “allowed a company to take advantage and generate a substantial personal profit on the backs of Oklahoma students.” Before stating that “this is especially offensive at a time when Oklahoma students and parents are struggling with the weight of the pandemic and its effects on our students’ education and wellbeing.”
“Would you say Oklahoma taxpayers were scammed?” KFOR asked.
“Definitely,” Sharp said. “Your state agencies allowed this to happen.”
No indictments were handed down since the investigation into the school is ongoing. The grand jury report concludes by stating that “the citizens of Oklahoma demand more. The students in Oklahoma deserve better.”
The grand jury states they plan to recess currently until its next session, which takes place on June 1-3, 2021. At that time, they state they will gather additional witnesses and evidence to resume their investigation.
The full 25-page report can be read below: