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The 10 Most Important Slides from the State Auditor and Inspector’s Epic Presentation

April 7, 2021 Comments off

Yesterday, State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd’s gave a virtual presentation over her office’s findings in the investigation of Epic Charter Schools. The 45 minute video is now all over the World Wide Web Web and continues to be shared. It should also be required viewing for all educators parents, and … well, taxpayers. And probably legislators.

As important as the presentation is, I know that the tl;dr phenomenon applies to video content as well. I taught high school English long enough to understand that just because I assign it, doesn’t mean you’ll read all of it. That being said, let me cut it up into bite-size pieces for you.

I have taken screenshots of what I think are the ten most important slides from Auditor Byrd’s presentation. I’ll do my best to summarize them, but honestly, watching the whole thing (with captioning), is really worth it. After watching it in the morning, I even kept it on loop again yesterday afternoon while working in my office.

1. Governor Stitt initiated the audit process, writing to Auditor Byrd, “I respectfully request an audit of Epic Charter School and all related entities.” This isn’t the first slide in the presentation, but I’m doing the first two in reverse order. Too many times, I’ve seen the state’s leading far-right think tank accuse Epic’s detractors of being anti-choice.

Hardly.

This audit, which began six months into Stitt’s term, is about assuring that tax dollars go where they’re supposed to.

The other notable part here is that Stitt addresses not only Epic, but also all related entities. As Byrd demonstrates clearly, there is very little – if any – space between these entities.

2. The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation was already investigating Epic before the governor wrote to Auditor Byrd. The search warrant below was issued three days before the governor sent that letter. I’m not a lawyer, but embezzlement and racketeering both sound pretty serious.

3. Epic Youth Services received a PPP loan for $42,700. On first glance, it’s a fairly small amount. But Epic Youth Services reported to the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission that they had zero employees from 2010 through 2018. Then in 2019 they hired two lobbyists. Epic Youth Services, which takes 10% of all of Epic’s state aid, now apparently has three employees and needs federal Covid relief funds to keep them on the job – whatever job that is. Auditor Byrd doesn’t seem to think that the operating agreement makes that clear.

4. Epic One-on-One (full-virtual) and Epic Blended submit identical invoices every month. That’s right. The percentages you see below are identical for the all-online school and for the brick-and-mortar school. I’m also not sure what child nutrition services are needed for Epic One-on-One, and why EYS bills them for it every month. One more thing…if they have three employees, none of which are certified teachers, what are the certified salaries?

If Epic has their way, we’ll never know. They claim that all the funds that go to EYS are private once the check clears. I get the premise. That’s like saying when my district’s milk check to the dairy clears, it’s not state money anymore. On the other hand, we still haven’t clearly established why Epic is buying milk for virtual students. In any case, the identical monthly invoices are fishy.

5. Epic claims the state can’t audit $125 million in funds that were allocated from 2015-20. On top of the 10% management fee that goes to EYS, Epic withholds $1000 per student for their “learning fund.” They have provided examples of use and ranges of expenses, but they have not brought receipts. As Byrd says in the presentation, “During the course of the audit more than $125 million of student educational funds were transferred to a company with no transparency and no accountability.”

Again, how is anyone ok with this? If you believe in school choice, don’t you worry that this hurts your cause? If you believe in fiscal responsibility, why aren’t you outraged? Every other school district has to keep a paper trail of every dollar we spend.

6. Byrd’s office has to deal with five separate law firms that Epic employs. This explain why the State Auditor and Inspector’s office has had to issue more than 50 subpoenas to date. Byrd says that responses have been late and incomplete. The next part of the investigation can’t move forward until a judge rules whether or not the learning funds are public funds and therefore subject to audit.

Five law firms. Just wow.

7. For the current school year, about $90 million more of state funding is hidden from view. We all knew that Epic (and other statewide virtual schools that apparently don’t self-deal with their own parallel companies like something out of Ozark) was going to gain students during the pandemic. That only increases the onus for transparency. Apparently, it also cranked up the necessity on the part of Epic to avoid it.

8. The scope of the audit is actually narrow. Byrd isn’t saying that charter schools, virtual instruction, or school choice more broadly are bad concepts. Again, it’s important to remember that our most school choice forward governor ever requested this audit.

I know good teachers who work for Epic. This isn’t a knock on the work they do or an attack on their character. This audit report questions the legality and ethics of the actions of Epic’s leaders.

For the record, I’m not against charter schools, virtual instruction, or school choice, other than vouchers for private schools. Discussions of school choice aren’t binary. And we shouldn’t paint charter schools with a singular brush.

9 & 10. Senate Bill 895 is sketchy. Shortly after Byrd’s office released their findings, Senator Paul Rosino (R – OKC) filed a bill that would strip her office of the authority to perform this kind of audit. Imagine an agency under investigation being able to choose their own investigators. Worse yet, this bill is based on suggestions of Epic’s co-founders.

Byrd’s office released her findings on October 1. As the Tulsa World points out, Rosino’s campaign received donations from Epic people on the 2nd. Then he filed this bill. Yeah, it probably means nothing.

Again, I can’t urge you strongly enough to play the video. Just keep it on in the background while you’re cooking dinner or answering email. Break it up into chunks. Turn it into a Reader’s Theater for your drama class.

Well, maybe don’t do the last one.

This is a very big deal, and we can’t quit asking for accountability. SB 895 has already passed the Senate and is now waiting to be heard in committee in the House. We can’t be complacent about this.

Contact your representative. Tell a friend to do the same.

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