When a rural, southeastern Oklahoma school district was struggling and on the verge of closing, Epic Charter Schools stepped in. The deal, which expanded its “blended learning” presence beyond the two metro areas, allowed Epic to have the trappings of traditional public schools and receive a cut of the funds, as well as gain a toehold in rural Oklahoma.
The founders of Epic Virtual Charter School donated at least $145,000 total to dozens of candidates in this year’s elections. The donations outpaced those from the Oklahoma Education Association PAC and have come amid continuing dramatic growth in enrollment at the online school.
The state agency that oversees virtual schools has proposed a new grading system to improve oversight of the schools, which have experienced persistent low academic performance coupled with climbing enrollment.
Teachers at Epic Charter Schools can earn up to their base pay in bonuses, making them some of the highest-paid teachers in the state. But students at the virtual school often underperform their public-school peers.
Virtual charter schools would be required to track and report student attendance —something the schools aren’t currently tasked with doing — under a law proposed by an Oklahoma senator. The bill was prompted by an Oklahoma Watch story.
What is attendance at a virtual school? In Oklahoma, online charter schools are allowed to create their own policies. Two of the schools were the only ones in the state to record 100 percent attendance last year.
Epic Charter Schools is growing at lightning speed, which its leaders say is proof of its effectiveness. But the trend has raised questions about student turnover and evokes national concerns about the low academic performance of rapidly growing virtual charter schools.
Three years after the governor ordered an investigation into the state’s largest virtual charter school, no charges have been filed. But after an inquiry by a reporter, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation said it is now “re-interviewing” people in connection with the probe.