Why We’re Covering Epic Charter Schools, and What’s Next

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Whitney Bryen/Oklahoma Watch

Children who attend Epic Charter Schools, their parents and other supporters assembled at the State Capitol on March 11 for an advocacy and education day.

One of our most important roles at Oklahoma Watch is to keep an eye on what affects everyday Oklahomans and especially Oklahoma’s children.

We also take very seriously our job of holding those in power accountable and transparent and revealing how our state makes use of your tax dollars.

Our first stories about Epic Charter Schools ran in 2016, back when the Oklahoma City-based virtual school enrolled about 6,000 students. It has since grown to more than 21,000 students. And with that, its share of state funding has increased substantially, to $112.9 million in fiscal year 2019.

Not only has the school experienced huge growth in students and dollars, it has generated controversy, with reports of a law enforcement investigation, low performance in student achievement measures and aggressive marketing and recruiting of students and teachers.

With many questions swirling, our education reporter Jennifer Palmer has spent months digging into the school to shed light on its operation, how it spends state money and how students are faring.

On April 27, for instance, we published a story about the small, rural district of Panola, which converted to a charter school and turned over its management to a company affiliated with Epic Charter Schools.

Our next story will soon be published – a look at how performance measures reported by Epic are skewed by the exclusion of large numbers of part-year students, many of whom were dropped mid-year but quickly re-enrolled. Some teachers say they were pressured to drop students, particularly low performers.

We aren’t questioning the value of virtual schools or charter schools. Epic is simply newsworthy: It has drawn both outrage and support from lawmakers and community members. And we think it deserves your attention too.

We welcome your feedback. Jennifer can be reached at jpalmer@oklahomawatch.org and Executive Editor David Fritze at dfritze@oklahomawatch.org.