Pandemic spurs enrollment at Oklahoma virtual charter school
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Enrollment at a virtual charter school in Oklahoma has skyrocketed amid the coronavirus pandemic that forced closures for traditional school districts.
Epic Charter Schools, which has no schoolhouse and serves pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students who attend online, exploded in growth in the eight years since it launched and now boasts an enrollment that rivals the biggest districts in Oklahoma, with a projected student body of 46,000 kids by Oct. 1, according to Shelly Hickman, assistant superintendent of communications.
The Epic One-on-One digital platform, available in all 77 counties in Oklahoma, offers physical learning sites at their Blended Learning Centers in the Tulsa and Oklahoma City metro areas. Both are free public charter schools.
Epic grew rapidly since its founding in 2011, becoming the third-largest school system in the state during the 2019-20 school year, according to The Oklahoman. But, their latest surge was unexpected, even to Epic officials. The charter school adds about 1,000 new students a day.
Surveys of enrolling families indicate about 60% are choosing Epic because of the pandemic and 40% for other reasons, Hickman said.
Last year, however, the charter school was under investigation for artificially inflating the number of students and pocketing millions of dollars illegally. The school had reported more than 21,000 students in 2018 and received nearly $113 million in state funding.
No charges were filed, but an Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agent wrote in an affidavit for a search warrant that the school’s two founders, David Chaney and Ben Harris, recruited and enrolled “ghost students” who received little to no instruction.
The investigation into Epic is “still open”, Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman Brook Arbeitman said Thursday, while declining to elaborate further.