The state’s largest virtual charter school reported staggering growth for 2017-18, adding more than 4,000 students to its roster, according to the latest enrollment data.
Epic Charter Schools enrolled 13,158 students as of Oct. 1. That makes Epic the 11th largest “district” by size, slightly larger than Jenks Public Schools, which enrolled more than 12,000 students, data from the Oklahoma Department of Education shows.
Epic enrolls students statewide and this year added two brick-and-mortar sites in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, where students can be dropped off for in-person instruction. That program, however, accounted for a small fraction of the school’s growth. About 250 students on average each day attend the blending learning sites, said Shelley Hickman, a spokeswoman for the school.
The vast majority of Epic’s new students come from traditional public schools, she said.
“We have steadily, for the last six years, been experiencing significant growth,” Hickman said.
Epic’s rampant growth and unconventional marketing tactics, such as giving out prizes for referrals of students, have raised eyebrows. The school also has recorded average to low school grades and low graduation rates. Nationally, charter advocacy groups have called for stricter regulation of virtual charters, whose students post weaker academic growth compared to traditional schools. Epic officials have defended the quality of the education they provide and point to enrollment growth as proof.
Epic now operates two very similar Oklahoma schools with different authorizers. Epic One on One is overseen by the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board and Epic Blended is overseen by Rose State College. The same people serve on each school’s board, and the boards contract with the same for-profit management company, Epic Youth Services, to operate both schools.
To put Epic’s growth of 4,081 students into perspective: the entire state’s public-school population grew by 1,106 students, to 694,816, this year.
Epic’s student population increased by 45 percent. The district reporting the second-largest rate of growth was Avant Public Schools in Osage County, attended by 90 students. That represented a 38 percent increase from last year, when there were 65 students.
Other enrollment trends across the state:
> The number of students in districts operating schools on a four-day week decreased by an average of 1 percent between 2016-17 and 2017-18. This year, there are 91 such districts, seven fewer than last year.
> More than 29,000 students this year are attending charter schools, virtual or brick-and-mortar. That remains a small proportion, 4.1 percent, of all students in Oklahoma.
> The majority of Oklahoma students are nonwhite for the second year in a row. The student population this year is 48.9 percent white, 17.2 percent Hispanic, 13.6 percent Native American/Alaskan Native, 9.3 9.33 percent two or more races, 8.6 percent black, and 2.4 percent Asian, Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.