OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister led a press conference Tuesday afternoon detailing new findings in an investigation into Epic Charter Schools and its administration practices.
Among many violations, one major point of emphasis for Hofmeister was an algorithm used to count student’s attendance.
She said it was run by a third-party vendor. The vendor’s name is Futuristic Education. Now the relationship between Epic Charter Schools and Futuristic Education is in the spotlight.
“There’s an understanding now that Epic Youth Services has a relationship of some sort with Futuristic Education,” said Ben Clark, General Counsel for ODSE. “That’s what was made known to us today.”
The Department of Education said they met with Epic Charter Schools Tuesday morning to go over the findings.
Hofmeister and Clark said that no one from the school knew much about Futuristic Education and its algorithm.
They emphasized that the relationship was from Epic Youth Services, started by co-founders of Epic, David Chaney and Ben Harris.
But the algorithm showed signs of circumventing existing attendance laws for virtual schools.
“We saw troubling patterns in ethics data system related to truancy,” said Hofmeister. “Specifically, the data reveals a pattern of students marked absent for 14 consecutive days marked present on the 15th day, then marked absent for 14 more consecutive days.”
A law passed in 2020 states if students are absent for 15 straight days, that student should be removed from the rolls and the school district will stop receiving funding for that student.
Since the 15th day was always marked “present,” Epic kept its enrollment numbers up and its funding.
Hofmeister said during the height of the pandemic, Epic Charter Schools had enrollment numbers north of 60,000 students.
In the report, during the school year of 2020-21, 6,436 students were absent more than 50 percent of the time they were enrolled. That comprised of 9 percent of the total population.
And 3,399 students, making up 5 percent of all students, were absent more than 75 percent of the time they were enrolled.
The Department of Education confirmed that of those 3,399 students, over 40 percent of them moved up a grade level for the following school year.
It was asked if some of the students could have been “ghost students,” but OSDE did not find that to be true.
Based on the findings, the State Superintendent recommended that Epic Charter Schools be placed on probation for the school year 2022-23; recommended the State Board of Education to adjust Epic’s accreditation status to “Accredited with Probation”; and recommended the State Board to consider further action, such as possibly sanctioning the superintendent of Epic.