OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation confirmed to KFOR Wednesday that they have finished a six-year investigation into Epic Charter Schools and handed it over to the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office. Now lawmakers and the state auditor are calling for answers, including charges to be filed against the founders of the district.
“We’re spending a lot of time suing the tribes,” said Oklahoma House Rep. John Waldron, D-Tulsa. “Maybe we should be spending time protecting the taxpayer dollars.”
“I think it was alarming to know that things like this could happen in public education,” said Oklahoma House Rep. Danny Williams, R-Seminole. “There were a lot of questions that went unanswered, and those questions need to be answered.”
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle supported state auditor Cindy Byrd’s conclusions on Epic’s operations under the school’s founders.
Byrd was not available for an interview this week, but confirmed a Tulsa World article to KFOR where she called the online public school the “Enron of education.” She also said the district carried out “the largest amount of reported abuse of taxpayer funds in the history of this state.”
“Our attorney general needs to prosecute them for malfeasance,” Waldron said.
Byrd updated Oklahoma house representatives in a meeting Tuesday and said she expects charges to be filed against the school’s founders, Ben Harris and David Cheney.
Allegations against the district include almost $150 million in taxpayer dollars that ended up in private bank accounts for Epic Youth Services. This was the districts for profit company at the time, which was also owned by both founders.
“I just think that if we if we’re going to entrust money from the taxpayer base into education, that we ought to be accountable for that money,” Williams said. “And those persons that are responsible for that need to be held accountable.”
According to Byrd, since no action has been taken since their initial findings were released, the founders took millions more in taxpayer money. However, Epic has since cut ties with both of them, and operates under new rules and management.
“I think this demonstrates why we need to have watchdogs in the system because if we’re not careful, scrupulous interests are going to bring in the politicians and take our taxpayer dollars for their own purposes,” Waldron said.
It was also reported in the Tulsa World article that Paul Campbell, the new chair of Epic Charter Schools governing board, told state auditor Byrd that the school is now under a federal audit by the IRS.
KFOR reached out to Epic Charter School’s for comment. Their full statement can be read below.
“EPIC is fully aware and has been notified that the IRS is auditing the 2019 Community Strategies tax return. This is all part of the larger process and we welcome due diligence to be done. In the meantime, we will continue to teach our students.”Erin Barnes, Director of Communications at Epic Charter Schools
KFOR did not hear back from the attorney general’s office.