OKLAHOMA CITY – New court documents detail additional allegations against a popular online charter school in Oklahoma.
According to a search warrant affidavit, agents with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation began looking into the relationship between vendors and Epic Charter Schools.
In the document, investigators allege that officials with Epic Charter Schools were told that they could not provide appropriated funds for extracurricular activities where students received no elective credit. However, agents say that Epic leaders took over $1.2 million in state-appropriated funds and paid for students’ extracurricular activities.
The search warrant indicates that the OSBI found that Epic used state-appropriated funds to pay over 1,200 private vendors who were not all certified teachers, which is a violation of the law.
The document also goes on to say that Epic “entered into relationships with convicted felons to provide direct instruction services to students.”
Superintendent of Epic Charter Schools Bart Banfield released the following statement:
“Many of you have likely read the latest article from the Tulsa World Please do not let this distract you from your important work in preparing for the upcoming school year. Today’s action by the OSBI is simply the latest in six years of continued allegations that we continue to prove false at every opportunity. Like we did with the OSBI’s affidavit in July, as soon as we are in receipt of the affidavit sourced by the Tulsa World today (an affidavit not even yet electronically filed for public review), we will begin to gather all of the documentation and information that proves- again-our school, CFO and current and past board members have done nothing wrong.
Like you, we look forward to the end of what has been a six-year investigation with no findings of wrong-doing. Thank you for doing what you are doing, as staff and as parents, to make sure the 2019-2020 school year is the best yet for the more than 25,000 children who will be attending EPIC.”
An attorney for Epic Charter Schools released the following comment:
“EPIC and its founders will continue to cooperate with investigators, who have now been probing the school for more than six years. It is important to note that no charges have ever been filed. We are confident that the end result of this investigation will be as it has always been- no finding of wrongdoing. We are unable to elaborate beyond this statement due to the fact that the school has not been provided the affidavit that has been provided to some members of the media.”
The OSBI released the following statement: “The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation has no comment on the Epic Charter School investigation due to the fact it is an ongoing investigation.”
This is not the first time Epic has made headlines.
In July, 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, 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.”
Gov. 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.