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!

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59 Responses

  1. EPIC Cheater Schools

  2. Now Stitt wants an investigation. Probably pissed he got cut out of the scam.

  3. I wonder if these parents will be prosecuted for their part in defrauding the public school system? Most charter schools are a scam in that they don’t get the results they claim. But this is a whole new level of scam.

    1. I’m an Epic mom. We previously attended public school in Plano Texas. Pisd was ridiculous. My SPECAL ED ADHD KID has multiple learning disabilities. He has amazing potential. Before 2nd grade, he wasn’t medicated and his memory retention was horrible. Day to day it was like he couldn’t remember anything. Pisd would simply put a worksheet infront of him and isolate him. I was sick of my kids’ participation in active shooter drills. It made me sick. I love homeschooling my kids. Epic has an amazing program that tests our kids. My son has learned so much. I give him one on one. He has teachers that do online instruction which I watch from a distance to make sure he is paying attention. We can see his peers. We can turn off our cam if we are eating or not looking great but paying attention is key. The teachers still has kids answer questions when she calls their name. It’s great. My kids are safe at home. I help them understand concepts they have problems grasping. All testing is done in a facility. Epic didn’t give me any money. It’s a fund that is available. For example, if my son wants to take piano lessons, I find an instructor within budget with a set his learning plan. We have to prove advancement in skill or education then epic asks for receipts and and curriculum and performance review. Then they reimburse us. My kids have not taken outside classes. They have their own chromebooks and wifi. The school is amazing. You just need to try it for yourself and you will see your bond with children grow stronger. Your kids are happier. You can go on vacation anytime and spend more time with your kids. It’s a God send. I’m thankful for them. We didn’t know how attendance was taken in the beginning so there could be better parental and student education in how the program works but…. The different learning styles it offers is mind blowing. You decide what’s best for your student and they have 24 hour help wit homework. I just hate to see this negativity. I’m a nurse. Single mom. I work hard for every penny I make. I would ever do anything fraudulent to lose my nursing license or my kids. If you have a SPED KID, ADHD KID, or an autistic kid, I encourage any Oklahoma parent to look into homeschooling with Epic. It’s beautiful watching your child learn and grow when professional paid ISD teachers seemed to be at the end of their rope with him. I thought my son was metally disabled. He isn’t. He needed one on one and someone to explain specific building blocks that he missed before he had medication to help him learn. My son’s tests explain it all. He is reading…. Writing and doing things they acted like he would never do. And he isn’t frustrated anymore! My punctuation, grammar, sentence structure, and typing doesn’t reflect my education or intelligence. It’s a tiny keyboard and I have big thumbs. Hah. I just wish I could show his teachers how far he has come since March when we began Epic charter.

      1. Karissa: Glad to hear that your son is doing so well.

        Please clarify – if you are a single mom working hard full-time at the tough job of nursing, how do you find the time to spend home-schooling your son? Evenings and weekends?

        Was Epic any help in getting your son properly medicated?

      2. Paragraphs are a thing. Glad you’re responsible for teaching someone how to read and write.

        I also love that you justify putting your kid in an Oklahoma Charter School based on experiences in another state’s public school system. Thanks for that apples to oranges comparison.

  4. I have had kids that went there the program is very good as a re the teachers. At this point there are accusations, and no one has been convicted of anything. Until there are convictions there is nothing to be upset about, and even if there are a couple of bad actors that does nothing to invalidate the very high quality education that epic provides.

    1. Sounds like someone on here is getting $800 annually.

      1. No don’t have any kids there now, and there are no cash payments when you do. Since they don’t have any extracurricular activities they will pay a fixed amount for enrichment type things, but we never used that.

      2. 👏

      3. $800 Club…

        1. Got an idea for you jim, Since Blanchard, Newcastle and Tuttle market themselves as the “Tri-Cities Area” would it not be a logical idea to consolidate the administrations of those schools into one district? There are about 6K students there when you add up enrollments. For reference, Bartlesville Public Schools have about the same enrollment (6K) and geographic area of the Tri-Cities. Their Superintendent makes $170K in total comp. However you make $160K in comp, your Newcastle counterpart makes $155K in total comp, and your Tuttle counterpart makes 122K in total comp. So, if two of you go, you are saving those 6K kids about $300K per year. Sounds really reasonable. States like Texas are doing it.
          You could even take one for the team and resign. You spend more time on Facebook Groups, Your own blog, and proposing to kick private schools out of the OSSAA anyway. Plus, you could run for the state house again! Sounds like a win/win!

          1. Why are you asking Jim?

            Conservatives love to talk about school consolidation. You all have a 3/4 super majority in the legislature. If you want to consolidate rural districts, then just fucking do it already and stop using it as a red herring.

          2. ouch…

    2. If the ‘couple of bad actors’ are the two douchebags that founded the scheme [disguised as a school to defraud taxpayers], the whole thing is fruit of a poisoned tree. Yank the charter. Jail the ‘bad actors.’ Let the chips fall where they may.

      1. What Beth said. Oh, definitely what Beth said.

      2. 👍👍❗️

      3. +100

      4. Exactly! When “couple of bad actors”=$10 million fraud by the founders for their personal gain, the entire organization is corrupt. I absolutely hate it for the teachers who were doing an amazing job and the students who found a good educational experience. But these guys can never be trusted to run a public school again. Yes, I know, allegations. However, it is a fact that they made a LOT of money through their for-profit Epic Youth Services consultation. That’s a whole lotta nope.

  5. Speaking of Stitt, I can see him appointing either one of these white businessmen to lead some of our state agencies. Harris has the bewildered look of a Dept of Mental Health employee. Or client.

  6. Since for-profit “colleges” lead the stats in debt defaults by their students, its almost as if their true objective was to collect borrowed tuition in exchange for a substandard educational product. And the coursework that they offered wasn’t a no-job degree like art history. The promised careers in their ads.

    Now here comes Epic, its parent company sucking millions in “management fees” out of their allegedly non-profit daughter schools.

    Charter schools themselves are not necessarily a bad idea. But the availability of easy government money with inadequate accountability draws scam artists. People who want to privatize “government” schools are complicit in this scam.

    There is a good reason why education, health care, and many other necessities of a civilized society have developed as run by government or by non-profits. The reason is that service and the general welfare in these cases MUST come before profits. The for-profit model turns the best delivery systems on their heads.

    Can you name ANY great for-profit school or hospital?

    1. Trump U?


  7. All charter schools are scams.

  8. I love all the EPIC “parents” on the local news stations’ FB pages defending this “school.” The comments read almost verbatim, “My child couldn’t stomach the responsibilities of real school where they made Ds and Fs regularly, and I was too lazy to hold them accountable or help them succeed. But this online charter school with almost no supervision by school officials or state regulators, and dubious accountability measures? It’s been just perfect for my idiot fail-child! They are getting all As now!” Like…yeah, it is going to be a lot easier for the “students” who have some loser stay-at-home parent filling out all the schoolwork and tests for their kids before they all head off to the splash pad for the rest of the weekday. What I would do if I was those parents, now that all the free money is gone, is shut-up fast and find a real school for your brat who doesn’t respect authority and hasn’t been taught any self-reliance.

    1. Preach.

  9. I have three children who attend Epic. When you receive your learning fund, it can only be spent on curriculum, leasing of laptops that are only to be used for the curriculum, and other supplies and approved items, that are used for science project and such. If, there is any money left in the fund, it can also be used for approved field trips that are planned by the teacher, or certain extra curricular activities like music or or sport classes. You have to meet with the teacher at least once a month, if not more and if you’re student doesn’t follow the guidelines of work completed and time spent logged in and working on the curriculum, they will be considered truant. My husband and I know at least 20 families, who’s children attend Epic, including several that have graduated. Epic has helped our children immensely. I think this is happening due falling enrollment in the public school system, and the loss of tax dollars they receive. Epic is very successful when it comes to helping kids receive a very good education and not have to endure the environment of the failing public schools.

    1. Where does Epic get the money for the “learning fund”?

      Wouldn’t it be great if that same source of money could provide a “learning fund” for supplementing the educational needs of public school students?

      1. They get it from the funding they get from the state. Oh yeah, they only get $.57 on the dollar that a brick and mortar would get, they also don’t get ad-valorem, which is about 30% of brick and mortars overall funding, yet they still manage to pay teachers more and make their owners really rich. If I was a politician, I’d hop on this witch hunt too. C’mon, you don’t think that Sen Ron Sharp, a teacher for 38 years in Shawnee, wants anything about Epic to succeed? Same with ole’ Dr. Jim Beckham in Blanchard. What Epic has done has shown that the old model is indeed broken and this will end like all the other “investigations”, no charges will be filed, Epic will be audited by the Cindy Byrd at Epic’s expense, and they will find nothing. If you want change in brick and mortar, you need to start having a real conversation about consolidation of school districts and administrations.

    2. I have several friends that enrolled their child in Epic. They are all well adjusted, financially successful families whose kids are in various other schools. They tried to convince me to enroll my children as well because, to paraphrase, “There is almost no obligation. You have a video conference with a teacher like every 2 weeks, and you get $800 allowance to put towards ‘extracurricular’ stuff like soccer, basketball, etc.” which our kids were already doing anyway. I refused and stated at the time that things like this were the reason we are so far behind in education. We take tax dollars that should be used to improve our education system, and we give it to individuals looking to make a profit because “people should have a choice in education” or whatever other BS barely-gettin’-by Cletus (who’s vote happens to count just as much as mine) wants to regurgitate.

  10. It’s not like the PUBLIC school system needed that money. They’re just rolling in it.

  11. To not go into detail….my daughter, without my approval, attended epic her senior year. When it came time to graduate, she was one class short. She finished that class in one day and made an ‘A’. This was a class that should have been a semester long. She finishes in one day. The school has issues.

  12. I’m with Graychin. Privatizing education is a bad, a really bad idea. It will work out about as well as privatized health care has.

    1. The privatization of everything is not going to stop there. It won’t be too long before people are advocating for the privatization of public water systems. We’ve already gotten used to buying oceanloads of it contained in little plastic bottles. Genomes are being copyrighted. Private security replacing police forces, mercenaries doing the dirty work overseas, sheriff departments doing deal with companies that stop cars, report licenses, etc.
      Public lands are under attack from the likes of those guys that occupied the Malheur Wildlife Refuge up in Oregon.
      Money is getting privatized, and that is one interesting development.
      The rights to every damn molecule, every single action, surely going to the folks with the most ones and zeroes in the banks of servers that rule us all.
      Soon we will be renting our own bodies back from the likes of guys that want to party and golf with Trump.

  13. Maybe the ghost students would have been more successful at state testing and business adventures upon virtual graduation in they had received $800 AND a laptop.

  14. Just ANOTHER RNC accredited SCAM!! You can bet these right wing crooks will find a way to sweep this under the rug, with ALL the help they need from stitts corrupt cabinet flunkies!!

    1. What the hell does this have to do with Stitt or RNC? You literally cannot think for yourself.

      1. Who the hell advocates for privatizing public education?

        1. The Fox folk are kinda sad really. They don’t even know what they support.

        2. yeah…why would we do that when the public school system is doing such a great job?

        3. This school started 9 years before he was elected. Yet you sheeple still somehow blame him for the issues. Predictable and stupid.

      2. Stitt and most of the state house Republicans ran on a platform of school choice?

        How fucking stupid are you?

  15. Ghost children need an education, too!

    I don’t really want to be haunted by some aberration groaning with poor noun/verb agreement or dangling participles.

    That would be creepy!

  16. Epic fans: You should be very angry. If the school is working for your kids,
    you should be pissed as hell at the crooked founders who are about to sink the whole program. That said, for-profit schools are a terrible idea, with precious tax dollars automatically being wasted on “profit.”

  17. “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?”

    Never, since Carter now works for Epic – “Co-Director Epic News Network/Journalist in Residence at Epic Charter Schools” is what his LinkedIn profile says.

    1. Thanks for reading.

      1. You did forget the job title, and fail to mention Carter works there.

      2. Didn’t read the link the first time through, thought you were asking basically when Carter was going to be ethical again, which is never, he’s apparently sold out completely if he’s defending Epic.

  18. I had to look these two douchebags up online.

    It should come as no surprise that there was an EPIC Charter School Day at the state capitol back in March. Just go to David Chaney’s instagram (yeah he’s one of those guys) and look at this douche with the Governor (his wife was homeschooled) who’s now supposedly looking into this matter according to yesterday’s paper.

    There was also a complete BS interview with Ben Harris in the Oklahoman back in Sept. 2010 before they got their little scam up and running.

    Perhaps “Fake Christian Republican Bullshit” could be our new state brand.

    Sorry, homeschooling is a red flag folks.

    1. We’ve got some neighbors who homeschool their children. I know this is going to come as a surprise, but they are actually SUPER weird. One word answers to all questions like, “Hey how’s it going [redacted]?”
      [Redacted]: “Good.”
      Me: “Where did you guys move from?”
      [Redacted]: “Georgia.”
      Me: “Ah I see. What brought you to Oklahoma?”
      [Redacted]: “Family.”

      It’s like they’re terrified I’m going to point out how evolution is no longer up for debate or something if we start conversing too freely, like some weird jehova’s witness in reverse vibe.

  19. I don’t really have an issue with people homeschooling/private schooling/charter schooling their kids if they think it’s best. Sometimes, that’s just the life situation they’re in. My home elementary school is not a great school itself, I wouldn’t look down on parents who want to skip it and pursue other options.

    But if you make a school for profit, then the primary motivation becomes profit. If there’s a way to game the government for profit, then they will game the government for profit. This should surprise no one, it already happened at the college level, with supporters saying much the same things.

  20. Epic is just another “Oklahoma Standard”. The brain trust of Epic gave in excess of $50,000 to Oklahoma “all charges dropped in campaign contribution fraud” Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hoffmeister. I’m sure she was very impressed with the MLM of the school after her stint and “teaching experience” by owning a Kumon (tutoring) franchise.

    For good measure around $15,000 went to our appointed Attorney General who decided earlier things were all on the up and up at Epic. Majority Floor Leader John Echol’s PAC (Prosperity Oklahoma) got a bit over $20,000.

    The hits just keep on coming, especially to citizens and the students. I’m sure very little will come from this investigation, as those that were involved with the school wrote the rules to make sure a MLM school would be legal.

    Oklahoma, is this a great state or what?

    1. With the under the radar donations to politicians is the Republican way of doing business. Payoffs ahead of time keep outcome hidden. This story will just fade away as it gets close to finding out who is at fault.

  21. I know many hard-working families in OKCPS schools that would love to get “learning fund” money to buy school uniforms, tennis shoes, supplies and other basic needs. Extras like music lessons or laptops wouldn’t even cross their minds. I hate it that our public schools are broke and hurting while crap like this is going on.

  22. Amazing what a little digging can do…


    1. Great read – thanks for posting! Lots of interesting questionable details of epic proportion!

  23. As an attorney who makes most of his money helping people get out of unbelievably stupid situations they get themselves into because they’re fucking stupid to start with, I wholeheartedly approve of the hundreds, if not thousands, of idiot Oklahoma parents who fight for their right to give their kids a substandard education.

    More stupid people = more money for me.

    Carry on.

    1. Cynical much?

  24. https://www.soonerpolitics.org/editorial/epic-charter-schools-may-be-the-victim-of-a-whisper-campaign ALL THE PROOF YOU NEED!

  25. Phil Cross didn’t last long at TLO…

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