Oklahoma has underfunded its public schools over the past decade. Many districts have switched to a four-day week to save money.

Some rural districts, facing insolvency, are turning their schools over to Epic, a for-profit online charter chain, which can balance the books by putting kids online and cutting teachers’ jobs.

Like all online charter schools, EPIC overstates its “gains” while its actual results are less than mediocre.

“To save his financially imperiled school district, Panola Superintendent Brad Corcoran in 2017 pitched a plan to convert the traditional public district into a charter school. 

“In becoming a charter, Panola Public Schools would turn over its management to a company affiliated with Epic Charter Schools, the largest online school in the state. The school board agreed. 

“The Epic-related firm contributed $100,000 toward Panola’s debt as part of the agreement. That company manages the small district for a more than 10 percent cut of its funding.  Panola’s high school students now have the option to attend most classes online from home.

“The deal was unprecedented. Not only was it one of the first conversions-to-charter in the state, it allowed Epic’s company to operate a school and gain many benefits denied other charter schools: It could tap into and spend local property tax revenue to cover costs of student transportation, school buildings and sports facilities, like traditional school districts.

“And Epic didn’t stop at Panola….”

Epic has 23,000 in Oklahoma and it is growing in California as well.

”Trice Butler, superintendent of Wilburton Public Schools, which neighbors Panola, said she is concerned that Epic is looking to replicate what it’s done in Panola in other districts.

“Butler said her primary concern is her belief that students at Epic are receiving a subpar education. She cited Epic’s low high school graduation rates and high numbers of students leaving Epic and returning to traditional schools with academic credit insufficient for the time they were enrolled. (Epic maintains that some students come to them behind in credits and the school helps them catch up.)

“Epic’s presence in Panola has also raised concerns about aggressive attempts to attract students and teachers from surrounding school districts even in the middle of the academic year.

”Panola spent $650 for postcards, and at least some were sent to addresses in nearby Wilburton school district, promising a customized education for students and touting the school’s “double-digit academic growth.”

“Butler called this “predatory marketing” and said the statements made on the postcard are misleading.

“Panola elementary students did post positive academic growth on the latest school report cards, with 80 percent of students improving between 2016-17 and 2017-18. But only 27 percent of those students scored on grade level, compared with 57 percent in Wilburton and 51 percent statewide.”

Oklahoma has followed a policy of large tax cuts for corporations, especially those in the oil, gas, and fracking industry, and budget cuts for education and other public services. The state is abandoning its future.