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Where do virtual charter school reforms stand in the Oklahoma legislature?

A sign is seen outside of 50 Penn Place in Oklahoma City where Epic Charter Schools leases 40,000 square feet for administrative use.
Whitney Bryen
Oklahoma Watch

As Epic Charter Schools continues to consider major reforms in the wake of scandal, Oklahoma lawmakers considered a trio of measures to hold schools like the charter behemoth accountable.

Rep. Sheila Dills, R-Tulsa, has pushed a number of bills in recent history - like a 2020 measure to increase required student participation and limit transfers to and from schools like Epic.

And while Senators debated a hotly contested voucher proposal, her efforts continued Tuesday with three measures in the House Common Education Committee.

  • HB 3643 creates more stringent reporting requirements for educational management organizations - like Epic Youth Services - that oversee charter schools. State Auditor Cindy Byrd has said that the management company and its founders embezzled millions of taxpayer dollars before they were given the boot by Epic’s school board late last year.
  • HB 3644 strengthens oversight of charter school sponsors and boards.
  • HB 3645 updates attendance requirements for virtual charter school students. Attendance counting has been an issue for charters in the past as they’ve dealt with so-called “ghost students.”

The three bills breezed through committee and are now eligible to be heard by the full House.

"Charter schools – both brick-and-mortar and virtual – have a role in our public school offerings to expand choice and to meet the individual needs of students and their parents," Dills said in a written statement. "Unfortunately, however, we've had instances of outright fraud or abuse of taxpayer dollars when it comes to organizations that manage the administrative functions of these schools. These bills seek to tighten our laws, protecting public funds and increasing transparency over how they are expended. We also have a duty to ensure our students are receiving the public education promised them in our state Constitution."

StateImpact Oklahoma is a partnership of Oklahoma’s public radio stations which relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online.

Robby Korth grew up in Ardmore, Oklahoma and Fayetteville, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Nebraska with a journalism degree.
StateImpact Oklahoma reports on education, health, environment, and the intersection of government and everyday Oklahomans. It's a reporting project and collaboration of KGOU, KOSU, KWGS and KCCU, with broadcasts heard on NPR Member stations.
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