In recent years, millions of tax dollars have been misused by the for-profit arm of Epic Schools — one of the largest campaign donors in Oklahoma — and a contributor to Kevin Stitt’s campaign.
Nearly $46 million in taxpayer dollars were sent to Epic Youth Services – even though it had zero employees besides its two founders during most of the time it was receiving funds. A scathing state audit of Epic found that the company had even sent $200,000 worth of Oklahoma tax money to one of its schools in California.The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation further alleged the company was a vehicle for owners Ben Harris and David Chaney to illegally take profits from taxpayer dollars, receiving $10 million in profits from the company that managed the charter school.
What was the response from the governor? Stitt protected Epic Schools by removing John Harrington as the president of the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board after he initiated contract termination proceedings against Epic and challenged two board members about their conflicts of interest with the company. (One of the members on the oversight board Harrington was trying to remove was a family member of Epic’s founder.)
After Harrington’s removal, the termination proceedings against Epic were delayed for months and ultimately abandoned in April following a settlement agreement that required Epic to be more transparent. It did not do nearly enough to punish the company or hold it accountable for its misuse of taxpayer dollars.
Only months after Epic was let off the hook, the company is embroiled in controversy again. In her December 2021 resignation letter, the vice president of Epic’s governing board, Kathren Stehno, accused the company of improperly withdrawing students for truancy, failing to notify board members of key information and handing out “extremely large and unapproved” staff bonuses.
Epic has given out hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to Oklahoma politicians. Stitt has received $10,900 in donations from individuals associated with Epic.
In February 2022, the state auditor once again urged the state to take action, calling Epic Charter Schools mismanagement the largest abuse of taxpayer funds ‘in the history of this state’.
- Gov. Stitt gives the boot to another education board member, Tulsa World, 12/5/2020
- Why is Gov. Kevin Stitt protecting Epic charter schools?, Tulsa World, 12/15/2020
- Epic’s ‘turbulent chapter’ ends with settlement, Oklahoman, 4/27/21
- Epic’s Board Vice Chair Resigns, Asks for Investigation into Misconduct, Oklahoma Watch, 12/5/21
- State auditor to lawmakers: Epic Charter Schools mismanagement is the largest abuse of taxpayer funds ‘in the history of this state’, Tulsa World, 2/2/22