Epic Charter School looks like a scam…

You know that fishy online charter school that spends more money on local print, tv, radio, and digital advertising than most local car dealerships during a time when schools can barely afford chalk?

Well, it’s looking more and more like it may be a scam!

Yeah, that’s right. Epic Charter Schools – The MLM-style public school that donates hundreds of thousands of dollars to local politicians, sponsors playgrounds at local malls, and even hires local investigative journalists like former TLO Contributor Phil Cross to write cringe worthy pieces in an effort to fend off bad press – may not be 100% legit. Hard to believe, huh?

Earlier this week, an OSBI search warrant affidavit revealed the district’s co-founders and noble leaders – David Chaney and Ben Harris – are being investigated for allegedly using a ghost student enrollment scheme to walk away with millions of dollars in taxpayer funding.

Here are details about the investigation via The Oklahoman:

In a perfect world, every public school would have unlimited funding that would equate to exceptional results for every student. Oklahoma’s fiscal reality is decidedly different. However, EPIC Charter Schools is overcoming this harsh dollars-and-cents truth and ranks among the most cost-efficient public school organizations in the state, according to a recent report.

A study released earlier this month by former state Education and Workforce Development Secretary Robert Sommers outlined Oklahoma’s public schools’ cost efficiency as it relates to student academic success. Among the many conclusions drawn, the report makes one point clear: out of more than 500 public school organizations in the state, EPIC Charter Schools consistently ranks among the top when it comes to getting the biggest bang for its academic buck. 

Oops! My bad. That’s one of TEN bought and paid for branded-content pieces The Oklahoman published about Epic Charter School over the past year. I guess it’s part of The Oklahoman’s plan to bring you “strong, fair and balanced journalism” that may or may not help a local scam ripoff Oklahoma taxpayers through propaganda that’s positioned as real news.

Here are the details about the actual search warrant:

A state investigation alleges Epic Charter Schools, the state’s largest virtual charter school system, embezzled millions in state funds by illegally inflating enrollment counts with “ghost students.”

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation alleged Epic co-founders David Chaney and Ben Harris “devised a scheme to use their positions as public officers to unlawfully derive profits from state appropriated funds.”…

We’ve found a photo of some of the ghosts students, and yeah, let’s just say they look pretty guilty:

Here’s more:

Investigators reported Chaney and Harris “created a system of financial gain at Epic” when they founded the virtual charter school in 2010. The two co-founders have managed the virtual charter school through a for-profit company, Epic Youth Services, which receives a portion of Epic’s state funds.

In its search warrant, OSBI alleged between 2013 and 2018, Chaney and Harris unlawfully received $10 million in profits from Epic Youth Services and split the total.

They allegedly took home $5-million each for running an online charter school!? Uhm, how did the Tate family never think of this?! It seems right up their alley! They could have self-published textbooks and hired teachers from the Philipines to make even more money! I fully expect The Tate Online Charter School of Excellence to launch later this year.

OSBI agents reportedly found dozens of “ghost students” counted in Epic’s enrollment numbers, though they were homeschooled or also attended private and sectarian schools, according to the search warrant, which was filed Tuesday in Oklahoma County District Court.

These students were enrolled in Epic but “received little or no instruction from Epic teachers.”

“Ben Harris and David Chaney enticed ghost students to enroll in Epic by offering each student an annual learning fund ranging from $800 to $1,000,” OSBI reported in the warrant. “… The parents of many of the homeschool students admitted they enrolled their children in Epic to receive the $800 learning fund without any intent to receive instruction from Epic.”

Several parents refused instruction from Epic teachers but continued to accept the $800 learning fund and expenses, investigators found. Many Epic teachers dubbed these families “members of the $800 club,” investigators said.

Does anyone know if there are any scammy online charter public daycare schools out there? I’d love to enroll my daughter in an $800 club to help pay for her real daycare.

Epic – which has a lot of supporters in the charter school-loving segment of the Oklahoma ruling class – issued this strong statement about the allegations:

“We are audited by the Department of Education and state-approved auditors each school year and are supremely confident that we operate our public school system within the boundaries of state and federal law. Since our inception in 2011, we have, time after time, proven ourselves innocent of all allegations. We will again. This latest attack comes at a time when our growth makes status quo education lobbying groups uncomfortable. We are considering legal action to combat what we believe is a coordinated effort to damage our school, our co-founders and our staff.”

I like that aggressive approach. If I developed a conniving education scheme that siphoned millions of dollars in public money into my checking account, I’d go down fighting, too. Well, at least until it was time to enter a plea deal!

Seriously, who cares that having to prove yourself innocent “time after time” during your first eight years of existence is incredibly suspicious, or that where there’s smoke there’s usually fire, or that even Mary Fallin thought Epic was a fraud, I’m sure this is nothing but a coordinated effort to bring down a lucrative, too-good-to-be-true school district.

It will be interesting to see how Epic responds to this.

First of all, when are M. Scott Carter and Phil Cross going to file their totally objective fact checking refute to the OSBI search warrant affidavit? Remember, that’s what they did after that now totally justified Oklahoma Watch investigation reported on the pressures that teachers felt to inflate and manipulate enrollment numbers. If you’re going to sell out and compromise your reputation and journalistic values, go all out!

Also, I wonder if Epic will buy even more local advertising in an effort to drown out the negative attention and influence public opinion? If so, can we get in on that cash cow??! As a token of goodwill to the fine con arti… errr… educators at Epic, I’ve designed and placed some sample ads to run on the site for a week so they can see how effective they are.

If these work out, Epic’s marketing folks can hit us up and join the TLO $800 Ad Club today!