Archives for category: Oklahoma

After a scathing state audit of its finances, the EPIC virtual charter school cut its ties to the school’s for-profit co-founders.


The governing board of Epic Charter Schools underwent a major overhaul Wednesday night and then declared its independence from the for-profit school management company owned by Epic’s co-founders.

Epic’s seven-member board of education unanimously approved a mutual termination agreement, effective July 1, to end its contract with Epic Youth Services, which reportedly has made millionaires of founders David Chaney and Ben Harris.

“Big day for our school; big shift, obviously,” said the newly seated board Chair Paul Campbell, an aerospace and energy executive who founded the Academy of Seminole charter school.

“This school has outgrown its management company, which is why we did what we did today. There is no more CMO (charter management organization). … Not only will we save tens of millions of dollars, but you’re taking a significant leap forward in technology for this school…

In early October, a report on the state’s investigative audit of Epic revealed lax school board oversight and that one of every four taxpayer dollars Epic received went to the for-profit school management company, Epic Youth Services.

The state auditor found that 63% of those monies — nearly $80 million budgeted for students’ learning needs — has been shielded from all public or auditor scrutiny. The auditor is still battling in court to get access to those spending records.null

The state audit also revealed that Epic Youth Services was relying almost solely on Oklahoma public school employees to do the administrative work for both Epic’s Oklahoma and California schools while collecting tens of millions of dollars in management fees.

It also found that the company “improperly transferred” $203,000 in Oklahoma taxpayer dollars from the Oklahoma schools’ student Learning Fund account to help cover payroll shortages at Epic’s California charter school.

John Thompson is an historian and a retired teacher in Oklahoma. He wrote this piece for the blog at my request.

In 2006, our John Marshall High School was enduring the worst of the five months-long, extreme meltdowns I witnessed in 18 years with the Oklahoma City Public Schools. Many days, I’d see the anarchy and the blood-splattered halls, and ask if I was dreaming. One thing that kept me sane was the discovery of education blogs, above all Deborah Meier’s and Diane Ravitch’s conversations in Bridging Differences. In a prescient example of the wisdom which grew out of their “animated conversation,” they agreed:

That a central, abiding function of public education is to educate the citizens who will preserve the essential balances of power that democracy requires, as well as to support a sufficient level of social and economic equality, without which democracy cannot long be sustained. We agreed that the ends of education–its purposes, and the trade-offs that real life requires–must be openly debated and continuously re-examined.

As Oklahoma City pulled out of the crack and gang crisis in the early 1990s, I saw a pattern that persisted for two decades – and which became more tragic during the third decade when I was a part-time teacher and an education writer. Each year, our school would make incremental improvements. Then, the district would bow to pressure and implement disastrous policies that would wipe out those gains – or worse. It would mandate policies that Ravitch later dubbed “corporate school reform.” Administrators who publicly endorsed policies where segregation by choice was combined with data-driven decision-making would often tell me off-the-record in the parking lot, that they knew the reforms would backfire. But they had no alternative.

During the first years after the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, local and state leaders often had some success in minimizing the damage done by school “choice” and in “monkey wrenching” the push towards high stakes testing. But, as in the rest of the nation, that resistance angered market-driven reformers who then pushed for harsher, more punitive policies. As opposed to Meier’s and Ravitch’s counsel, they believed that it was essential to remove balances of power, so they could force everyone to “be on the same page.”

One of the worst examples was requiring benchmark testing to be graded; that absurd policy drove John Marshall’s dropout rates for 9th and 10th graders through the roof. Then, the poorest halves of our high school and its middle school feeder were combined into a new school characterized by extreme, concentrated poverty. When a new data-driven staffing model was implemented, a deputy superintendent privately acknowledged that these two, intertwined “reforms” could be disastrous but said that the only thing I could do was lobby the state legislature for more support.

Back then, partially because of my success in conversing with conservative legislators, I naively believed that I could communicate with neoliberal output-driven, competition-driven reformers and the non-educators who conducted their research. But I eventually had to admit that Meier and Ravitch were correct when writing:  

Almost all the usual intervening mediators–parent organizations, unions, and local community organizations–have either been co-opted, purchased, or weakened, or find themselves under siege if they question the dominant model of corporate-style “reform.”   …

This allows these elites the opportunity to carry out their experiments on a grand, and they hope uninterrupted, “apolitical” scale, where everything can, at last, be aligned, in each and every school, from prekindergarten to grade 12, under the watchful eye of a single leader. If they can remain in power long enough, it is assumed (although what actually is assumed is not easy to find out) that they can create a new paradigm that no future change in leadership can undo.

Not understanding how single-minded “venture philanthropists” were in using “disruptive innovation” to drive top down “transformational change,” I didn’t understand why they would be so adamant about ignoring educators and social scientists, who continually reexamined their hypotheses and complicated analyses. (Falsifiable hypotheses! Who needs falsifiable hypotheses?, was the reformers’ response. We’ll just run more controls on our statistical models.)

When practitioners and researchers tried to explain the interconnected challenges faced in high-poverty schools, these true believers in “the Market” dismissed our advice as “Excuses,” and “Low Expectations.” Reformers instead gambled that they could find individual levers, like data to engineer a “better teacher,” who could turn schools around.

That is why edu-philanthropists sought to use the stress of competition to overcome the stress of generational poverty and trauma, and segregation by choice to overcome the legacies of de jure and de facto segregation. They seemed to deny that the trade-offs that Meier and Ravitch acknowledged even existed.  Reformers thus ramped up high-stakes testing to force compliance; in doing so, they ensured that soulless worksheet-driven instruction would result in in-one-year-out-the-other educational malpractice which often would push the most disadvantaged schools over a tipping point.  

Then – and now – if I could get data-driven, competition-driven reformers to listen to one thing, I would try to explain why their misunderstandings about generational poverty led to hurried doomed-to-fail micromanaging. I’d try to tell them the story of our run-of-the-mill inner city school, a place with tragic failures as well as great strengths, that corporate school reform turned into the lowest-performing secondary  school in the state, where meaningful teaching and learning was replaced with nonstop remediation.

Our Marshall H.S. had survived “White flight,” and the crack and gangs crisis of the 1980s. It had working class and a few middle class students, as well as students from situational and generational poverty. It had a significant number of students who were seriously emotionally disturbed and/or burdened by multiple traumatic experiences, now known as Adverse Childhood Experience (ACEs). Back then, however, we also had numerous students with reading and math learning disabilities, who often became student leaders. Despite confidentiality laws, it was easy to identify many of the students on Individual Education Plans (IEPs) on the first day of class. They disproportionately sat on the front row, with carefully prepared notebooks, ready to “work smart” and succeed.    

By 2005, however, school choice had produced an exodus of the top teachers and students (including special education students who were not wrestling with behavioral or emotional disturbances.) Our highest challenge neighborhood was known as the “New Hood,” the home of families that had been driven out of the “Old Hood” by urban renewal. The Old Hood had endured plenty of racism and economic oppression, but it was a community full of African-American churches and home-grown institutions that had resisted Jim Crow.

The New Hood combined concentrated generational poverty, with families disrupted by multiple traumas, in a neighborhood lacking social capital. For example, when campaigning for Jesse Jackson, I learned that we didn’t try to canvass the New Hood because the high incarceration rate resulted in so few eligible voters.  Even so, when I canvassed the neighborhood for Barack Obama, I conversed with parents and learned that the majority of its students officially or unofficially transferred to schools in the 20+ districts across the metropolitan area.    

Because it is so much harder to improve education “outcomes” in schools serving the highest challenge neighborhoods, our low test scores led to more worksheet-driven mandates. This increased official and under-the-table transfers out of our poorest neighborhoods by families who could find legal or other ways of getting their children into the best schools that they could get to.

After NCLB, it was the highest challenge neighborhoods in the eastern half of our school’s area which first lost their recesses, art and music classes, and extracurricular activities, as drill-and-kill instruction failed to increase test scores. When the school board chairman visited my class and was thrilled by the standing room only audience, each student told him something about their elementary school. Virtually everyone who attended schools in the western half of our feeder area had positive things to report. The majority of those who came from the poorer eastern neighborhoods had horror stories to tell. Those from the New Hood were especially angry about being “robbed” of an education by nonstop test prep.    

The tipping point was crossed in 2006 when school staffing was driven by a primitive statistical model that could not distinguish between low income students and children of situational poverty, receiving Free and Reduced Lunch, as opposed to children from extreme poverty, who had endured multiple traumas. Because of the additional costs of providing services for the most seriously emotionally disturbed students, teachers in “regular” classrooms were assigned up to 250 students.  So, I had classes such as the one with 60 students where many students on the west side of the room had had family members killed or wounded by family members of classmates on the other side of the room.

Within a couple of years, even after the staffing formula had been worked out, segregation by choice created classes of 35 or more, with more than 40% being on IEPs or English Language Learners, with a majority carrying a felony rap (whatever that meant in a state with the world’s highest incarceration rate); and where two students had recently witnessed the murder of a parent, and two others watched the murder/suicide of their parents; during a year when our kids buried an unprecedented number of family members.

As I have explained, these doomed-to-fail, test-driven, competition-driven policies were pushed by corporate school reformers who knew little or nothing about the nuances of poverty and the legacies of segregation. They ignored the cognitive science which explained why their test-driven approach would drive holistic teaching and learning out of the classroom. 

As we deal with the legacies of today’s COVID pandemic, I hope we can learn from the history of my school and so many others. Maybe we can agree with Meier and Ravitch that “democracy cannot long be sustained” without public – not market-driven education. If nothing else, let’s agree that our democracy requires adults to listen to each other, as well as to students.

You may recall that the Oklahoma State Board of Education recently voted 4-3 to allow charter schools to share in local tax revenues, over the opposition of State Commissioner Joy Hofmeister, who said that the decision might violate state law. You may also recall that the virtual charter school in Oklahoma called EPIC has been embroiled in scandal after scandal (just google “Oklahoma EPIC scandal” and you will get lots of references to allegations of theft, embezzlement, ghost students, etc.). For example, in fall 2020, the state auditor reported that EPIC owes the state $8.9 million for inaccurate reporting, improper transfer of funds, and a multitude of other egregious (you might say “epic”) calculations. That $8.9 million was the tip of a very large iceberg. The state auditor said that about 1 of every 4 dollars that the state paid to EPIC (a total of $458 million) was deposited as profit by the school’s owners. The story is breathtaking.

The Oklahoma Parent Legislative Action Committee (PLAC) posted this on its Facebook page:


Oklahoma PLAC
  Facebook post:

TRANSPARENCY, ACCOUNTABILITY??? 🔎 Where art thou?

We’re wondering why State Board of Education member Jennifer Monies did not recuse herself during last week’s vote to settle a lawsuit that directly benefited another entity of which she serves as board member. She is both plaintiff and defendant in this case yet she still cast a vote. 

“On numerous occasions in the board’s public meetings, Monies has mentioned her service on the board of her son’s school, John Rex Charter Elementary in Oklahoma City, which would stand to benefit from the settlement and which is listed as a member of the Oklahoma Public Charter School Association on the organizations’ website.”

And another tragic Farce

EPIC Charter Schools named Charter School of the Year by Choice Matters

Over the opposition of Joy Hofmeister, the state superintendent, the Oklahoma State Board of Education voted 4-3 to allow charter schools to have a share in property taxes and motor vehicle taxes that previously were reserved for public schools.

A groundbreaking settlement will fundamentally change the way charter schools are funded in Oklahoma, despite vehement opposition from the state’s top education official.

The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted 4-3 on Thursday in favor of an agreement with the Oklahoma Public Charter School Association to settle a 2017 lawsuit.

The charter school association called the agreement a “tremendous step” for equality in school funding.

State schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said the settlement could violate state law and have “seismic” implications by redistributing school funding.

“Today’s board action circumvents the will of the people of Oklahoma and the state legislature by unilaterally determining how public education is to be funded,” Hofmeister said in a statement Thursday evening. “I fear this action knowingly violated Oklahoma statute and the Oklahoma Constitution.”

The original promise of charter schools when they started thirty years ago was that they would cost less than public schools because of their lack of bureaucracy. That pledge has long been forgotten as charters fight to have equal funding–or in some states, like Texas–more funding than public schools.

This decision will mean less money for Oklahoma’s underfunded public schools.

Joy Hofmeister is one of those rare state chiefs in a red state who puts public schools first.

Rejoice Christian School in Owasso, Oklahoma, was expelled because she told another girl that she had a crush on her.

If every little girl who had the same feelings for a best friend admitted the same, there would be very few little girls left in school. Children at that age are not thinking about sex, although their elders are.

Should public funds support religious schools? Of course not.

John Thompson is a historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma. He keeps us abreast of what is happening in his home state.

He writes:

Now that Oklahoma voters rejected Gov. Kevin Stitt’s recommendations and chose to accept hundreds of millions of dollars a year of Medicaid Expansion funds, policy-makers must ask what could go wrong with Stitt’s current effort to privatize up to $2 billion in Oklahoma Medicaid services. Nondoc reports that this week:

Amid an air of confusion over its own powers and responsibilities, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority Board voted this morning to authorize financial expenditures for contracting with managed care organizations, controversial entities that take a portion of public Medicaid funding for attempting to improve care coordination, increase patient compliance and decrease overall program costs.

Several of the “five major health care associations” that opposed Stitt’s plan “referenced Oklahoma’s past managed Medicaid effort from the 1990s, which was ended owing to many of the same concerns opponents are voicing now.”

Since the Oklahoma governor has repeatedly pushed to allow private entities to innovate in terms of fighting the Covid pandemic, the answer might be found in more recent history. For instance, last spring, Oklahoma Health Department contracted with a piano bar owner to purchase about $2 million worth of N95 masks from China!

(I wonder if Stitt refused to listen to public health experts and close bars when infections super-surged for fear that that would have been undermined such innovations…)

Recent issues of The Frontier help evaluate the effectiveness of Stitt-era innovations. The state is now trying to return $2 million of stockpile of the malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine. Stitt ordered the purchase after former President Donald Trump praised that untested treatment.

The Frontier and ProPublica also reported on problems with CARES Act expenditures, and concluded, “The scope of those problems is clearly visible in Oklahoma, which tied for the third-highest number of hospital closures in the country in the nine years before the pandemic.” They found that, “One hospital used more than $1 million in federal aid to pay off its years-old debt to a management company that left before Oklahoma’s first coronavirus case was diagnosed.

On the other hand, “Three Oklahoma hospitals that were purchased last year after filing for bankruptcy were unable to access more than $6 million in funds deposited by the Department of Health and Human Services, the agency in charge of the rollout for health care providers.”

The Frontier also reported on Payroll Protection Program (PPP) money that went to Oklahoma churches. It showed that “between $90.2 million and $153.9 million went to churches in Oklahoma;” for instance, the “Edmond-based LiveChurch.TV, received between $5 million and $10 million.”

The Tulsa World also reported on Stitt’s sending $10 million in federal COVID-19 relief money  to help private school students. Those grants ranged up to $6,500 per family.

Speaking of school privatization, this week the Epic Charter Schools board “accepted the resignation of 11-year member Mike Cantrell.” This occurred as the State Department of Education continued efforts to “recoup” $11.2 million of inappropriately spent state money. Cantrell still claims, “They don’t have a right to look at a private company’s records.” He calls the auditing process a “sham,” and speculated that maybe the auditor should be impeached.

Okay, this history of privatization by Stitt and his and Trump’s supporters hasn’t turned out well, but maybe we need more innovation, such as contracting with a bar owner to obtain PPE. How did that experiment turn out?

The same day as Stitt defeated OHCA board members who opposed his managed care of Medicaid policy, the Oklahoman reported:

Health officials got fewer than 10,000 masks from PPE Supplies and only $300,000 of the deposit back, according to the breach of contract lawsuit.

The Health Department is seeking the rest of its money back — $1.825 million, plus interest. It also is seeking punitive damages for “misconduct.”Whether its ideology-driven use of Covid funds to promote private schools, or using $25 million CARES Act funds for old-fashioned pork barrel politics, like defying medical experts by moving the public health lab from Oklahoma City to his alma mater, Oklahoma State University, Stitt’s schemes are destructive and wasteful. We can laugh at his more absurd misuse of federal money, but if he gets away with imposing managed care for Medicaid, the damage will be devastating. 

John Thompson, retired teacher in Oklahoma, knows who Cleta Mitchell is. Her career began in Oklahoma.

Cleta Mitchell sat alongside Trump and Mark Meadows as they made the now famous phone call to Georgia election officials to try to persuade or bully them into “finding” enough votes to reverse the election results in that state. Georgia law enforcement officials are now considering filing criminal charges against Trump for his encouragement of election fraud in that call.

Cleta Mitchell’s law firm, Foley & Lardner, questioned her role in prodding Georgia election officials to “find” enough votes to overturn the result of the state’s election. She “resigned” from the firm. She embarrassed the firm by encouraging Trump’s efforts to undermine the rule of law and the Constitution. I am happy to report that I was one of what must have been many who expressed those views on the firm’s website.

John Thompson writes:

Who is Cleta Mitchell, “a prominent GOP attorney,” who participated in the already infamous telephone call where President Donald Trump pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger “to ‘find’ enough votes to overturn his defeat” in the November presidential election? The Washington Post reports that this “extraordinary one-hour phone call” is described by legal scholars “as a flagrant abuse of power and a potential criminal act.”

Mitchell, the former Oklahoma liberal, subsequently justified the call saying Raffensperger’s office:

Has made many statements over the past two months that are simply not correct and everyone involved with the efforts on behalf of the President’s election challenge has said the same thing: show us your records on which you rely to make these statements that our numbers are wrong.

How is it that the previously respected Cleta Deatherage came to participate in the effort to use “debunked conspiracy theories” to overthrow the results of a clearly legal election? What did Cleta Mitchell think when Trump demanded, “I just want to find 11,780 votes?”

Mitchell had been a well-liked, respected state representative, who became the “first woman in the U.S. to chair a state appropriations and budget committee.” But she said that she realized that professional politicians are “like noncustodial parents in a divorce” who “don’t really know” regular citizens who shop at grocery stores.

I wonder what Mitchell would say about how well this week’s fiasco, merely the latest in the Trump experiment where amateurs and zealots replace professionals, is turning out?   

The Atlantic’s Jonathan Krohn suggested an alternative explanation of how an advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment joined with conservative organizations to advance a rightwing agenda. Her allies include, Americans Back in Charge, the Bradley Foundation, the National Rifle Association, the American Conservative Union, the Republican National Lawyers Association, as well as Stephen Bannon’s Citizens of the American Republic, Krohn recalls Mitchell’s effort to expel GOProud, a gay rights group, from the Conservative Political Action Conference. He said her efforts “led GOProud’s Chris Barron to once call her “a nasty bigot,” and [Executive Director Jimmy] LaSalvia to accuse her of “personal animosity towards gay people.”

Krohn explains that Mitchell’s actions are “ironic” because her first husband was gay. They divorced in 1982. Her former husband, Duane Draper, later directed the Massachusetts AIDS policy office, and died of AIDS.

Krohn also recalls Deatherage’s 1984 marriage to Oklahoma City banker Dale Mitchell.  He then reports:

In late 1992, he (Mitchell) was convicted of five felony counts of conspiracy to defraud, misapplying bank funds and making false statements to banks and ordered to pay $3 million in restitution–something that his wife says convinced her that government had grown too big.The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer also wrote about Cleta Mitchell’s transformation. She quoted Mitchell’s claim that her husband “is the most honest person I’ve ever known.” His conviction convinced her that “overreaching government regulation is one of the great scandals of our time.”

Near the beginning of Mitchell’s post-Oklahoma career, she campaigned for term limits for legislators. She eventually developed a “stepmother theory of government.  “Citizen Legislators” would replace politicians; her vision would be “Why not take turns in office like jury duty.” 

If that sounds weird, however, wait until Mitchell’s allies more publicly reveal the next step toward undermining representative government.

Mitchell explained that she changed after her pastor warned of the “perils of struggling all one’s life to succeed at what in the end could turn out to be an unworthy pursuit.”

But, Mayer ended her article on how Mitchell became an “outsider” with the lesson, “appealing to the discontent of those outside the system may be the surest path to becoming an important player inside it.”

Since Mayer’s 1996 article, Mitchell’s allies at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have devised a plan that is the antithesis of her previous “Citizen Legislators” approach, and is even more disconnected from reality. Documented’s Jamie Corey reveals that nearly a year ago, Mitchell was one of three attorneys working with ALEC on a path that “legislators can take to question the validity of an election.”  It seems impossible to reconcile that tactic with Mitchell’s faith in the people, as opposed to their representatives. And the next ALEC move is even more incomprehensible, unless the goal is to attack American democracy on all fronts.

The Huffington Post’s Mary Papenfuss, in an article about Mitchell entitled Attorney on Trump’s Georgia Call Works with Group Aiming to Eliminate Senate Elections, reports that ALEC is trying to persuade legislatures to the repeal of the 17th Amendment. U.S. Senators would then be chosen by legislators not the voters! 

Getting back to The Atlantic piece on Mitchell, Krohn concludes, “Mitchell herself, ironically, offers a clear model of how people can change.” And while on the subject of changing a person’s mind, Law and Crime now cites the McClatchy report that Mitchell (who had worked for the NRA) “‘had concerns about [the NRA’s] ties to Russia’” and the NRA’s ‘”possible involvement in channeling Russian funds into the 2016 elections to help Donald Trump.’” But, I wonder what Mitchell was thinking when she  dismissed the report as a “complete fabrication.” 

Similarly, as reported by Slate, Mitchell was caught on tape telling a closed door ALEC panel on gerrymandering, “My advice to you is: If you don’t want it [notes from the panel] turned over in discovery, you probably ought to get rid of it before you go home.” Don’t such words raise questions about how she could respect voters over her allies who disenfranchise them?

Above all, I wonder what Mitchell thought when, as Law and Crime explains, the January 2 Trump phone call was “completely undermining Mitchell’s attempts to discuss the matters he raised.” And now, her law firm, Foley & Lardner is distancing itself from Mitchell,So, is it possible that the Cleta Mitchell – who is helping Trump undermine our constitutional democracy – might remember the words of her pastor and distance herself from ALEC’s next unworthy pursuit?

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher, writes often about what is happening in Oklahoma. It is often not good for public schools and teachers because of the state’s awful legislature, controlled by oil-and-gas billionaire Harold Hamm, and its Republican Governor Kevin Stitt. The best education leader in the state is state Commissioner Joy Hofmeister, who continues to protect students and teachers from political shenanigans.

Here is the latest from Thompson:

As the COVID pandemic began in Oklahoma City, before Trumpian-style pressure to reopen bars, in-person restaurants and large gatherings, and before the resistance to masks and other public health tools sparked a super-spread, it looked like the public and nonprofit sectors were uniting in a team effort to protect public health. Clearly, online charter schools had advantages over traditional public schools in providing virtual and hybrid instruction, but there was reason to hope that the corporate reform wars could be put behind us (at least in terms of local charter leaders.)

The for-profit EPIC Charter Schools wasn’t likely to change its financial and political misbehavior, but its years of experience in delivering online instruction gave it a head start in providing virtual learning during the shutdown. Sure enough, its enrollment soared to around 30,000.

On the other hand, due to years of financial shenanigans, it was inevitable that multiple investigations would prompt penalties, headlines, and other bad news for EPIC, and it seemed certain that it would continue to fight back bitterly, as opposed to making a good faith effort to improve instruction. And there was no chance that its allies – state, and national corporate reformers and politicians committed to uncontrolled competition – would slow their privatization campaigns.  

The bad news for EPIC et. al came as predicted. A state audit showed that EPIC improperly classified $8.9 million, and a follow-up report found an additional $800,000 in misclassified administrative spending. The state Board of Education demanded the return of $11 million. The Statewide Virtual Charter School Board moved to terminate its contract with Epic One-on-One. Governor Kevin Stitt apparently retaliated by removing members of two state boards for votes that didn’t conform to his education agenda.  

And the initial good news overshadowed a new set of problems for EPIC. A five-month investigation by Oklahoma Watch and Frontline revealed that many EPIC graduates’ are unprepared for college. The investigation found that students “described a system that made it easy to speed through classes and little or no structured counseling.”  (The data was released at the beginning of the pandemic, but it describes a dynamic that could become more crucial to EPIC’s effort to retain its new influx of online students.) 

In 2015, the 35% of Epic students met all four of ACT’s college readiness benchmarks – in English, math, reading and science. As enrollment increased, just 4% of 2019 students met the benchmarks, compared to 15% statewide. Perhaps prophetically, EPIC’s graduating class’ average ACT score dropped from 20.5 in 2018 to 16.5 in 2019.

Similarly, Oklahoma Watch and The Frontier have reported more bad news for competition-driven reformers. For instance, the Oklahoma City Public Schools had twice rejected Sovereign Charter School’s charter, but in 2018 it was sponsored by Rose State community college. Rose State is also reported to be considering the charter sponsorships of Santa Fe South charter schools, and W.K. Jackson Leadership Academy, now a private religious school.

By the summer of 2020, Sovereign was down to 40 students after Oklahoma City Public Schools rejected it twice. Sovereign took out a $700,000 loan, but its enrollment didn’t increase enough. So, the State Department of Education put it on probation.

Then, what State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister characterized as a “rickety structure” was proposed. Sovereign would merge with Santa Fe South, which would assume its facility’s lease, as well as its debt. Ironically, that building complex had been the home of the once-influential Seeworth Academy charter school which was taken over after a financial scandal.

At this point, the privatizers’ big, remaining weapon is an attack on urban schools and teachers unions for not reopening in-person instruction.  ChoiceMatters, the rightwing the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA),  Governor Stitt and Secretary of Education Ryan Walters, and a new organization, Oklahoma Parent Voice, pushed the agenda that “Enough is Enough,” and schools must immediately reopen. But their rally at the Capitol only attracted about two dozen parents.

The campaign to immediately reopen urban schools is clearly an anti-union, anti-public school tactic. But it may be undercut by the fact that almost all Oklahoma City charters closed their in-person instruction around the time the November super-spread forced the OKCPS to limit itself to virtual instruction.

A recent survey of teachers by the Oklahoma Education Association found that teachers are “stressed,” “overwhelmed,” and “scared.” About 12% of respondents had contracted COVID-19,  the teachers’ estimated average stress level was 7.7 on a scale of 10. 

When charters reopen, are their teachers likely to be less scared?

But maybe the rightwing won’t need to invest so much political capital in attacking teachers and unions. After all, Gov. Stitt may have found a new way to stimulate the economy. He made “a direct pitch to boost tourism in the state. Stitt stars in a 30-second promotional video encouraging those in neighboring states to visit Oklahoma. The video conveys a message that Oklahoma is open for business, and underscores the business friendly approach Stitt has taken to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt accepted the resignation of Melissa Crabtree, whom he appointed four days earlier. Crabtree is a home-schooling parent who has vociferously opposed any mask mandate. She was selected to replace Kurt Bollenbach, also appointed by Stitt, who wanted to claw back millions from a for-profit virtual charter and who believed that students should wear masks in school. Bollenbach was too sane and reasonable for Governor Stitt.

Gov. Kevin Stitt’s new appointee to the state Board of Education spent months sharing debunked COVID-19 medical advice, conspiracy theories and anti-vaccine content before hiding the posts from public view shortly after news of her new position became public Friday.

According to The Oklahoman:

Enid resident Melissa Crabtree was named to the education board after Stitt abruptly removed board member Kurt Bollenbach, who the governor appointed in 2019.

Crabtree is a vocal anti-mask advocate who earlier this year founded a group called Enid Freedom Fighters, which had helped for months to block a mask mandate in the city and is now leading an effort to recall elected officials who supported the move. Enid’s mask mandate passed Tuesday on a third attempt, according to an Enid News & Eagle story.

Stitt’s pick was condemned Friday by Democrats in the Legislature who criticized Crabtree’s views on masks and her lack of public education experience.

Information reviewed by Oklahoma Watch also shows that Crabtree frequently took to Facebook to share other controversial opinions, unsubstantiated medical advice and misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed at least 1,860 Oklahomans.

The posts were either deleted or hidden from public view just before noon Friday, but Oklahoma Watch was able to review and capture screenshots of several postings before that occurred.

This includes a post from last month where Crabtree, who frequently posts on the supposed benefits of essential oils, claimed to her more than 400 followers that zinc could “stop Covid from duplicating” and “will help a body not freak out at an illness…”

In another post from July, Crabtree told her followers to seek out a viral video where a doctor falsely touted hydroxychloroquine as a COVID cure. Multiple claims in that video have been debunked by fact-checkers.

Crabtree went on to write that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, has “known that hydroxychloroquine worked for 15 years” and, without providing any evidence to back up her claims, that “they are purposely distorting the studies and letting people die.”

Crabtree also posted multiple times endorsing the controversial strategy of achieving herd immunity without the use of widespread vaccinations. This includes a post from last week where she wrote that “once viruses are here, the way we get herd immunity is by people building immunity to the virus” and that she’d “rather have (the virus) than get the vaccine.

Apparently even Governor Stitt was embarrassed by his selection. And now he is looking for a new member of the State Board. Hopefully it will be someone who cares about the health and safety of students and teachers, and someone willing to call out grifters and frauds.

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt kicked his own appointee off the State Board of Education who made the terrible error of trying to claw back millions from a for-profit charter school and supported a mask mandate in all public schools.

Gov. Kevin Stitt abruptly replaced one of his own appointees to the Oklahoma State Board of Education this week.

Kurt Bollenbach of Kingfisher, who was appointed in April 2019 to serve a four-year term, recently supported a high-profile move to claw back more than $11 million in state funding from Epic Charter Schools and a failed attempt to mandate masks in all public schools.

He also recently drew public criticism from school choice advocates for leading a delay of approval for a couple of private schools to begin accepting state-funded scholarships for disabled students and foster children over questions about whether the schools’ anti-discrimination policies met minimum state and federal requirements.

Stitt replaced Bollenbach by appointing a home-schooling parent who opposes mask-wearing during the pandemic to the State Board of Education.

Many elected officials wondered why Stitt would appoint someone to the State Board who has no knowledge of Oklahoma’s schools and no qualifications. State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister praised Kurt Bollenbach, who was dumped by Stitt, apparently for being too responsible.

Hofmeister released this statement:

“Kurt Bollenbach has been an exceptional board member whose legal acumen, breadth of experience and commitment to excellence have been of great value to the State Board of Education. He is a man of tremendous principle and integrity. Of course, I look forward to meeting his successor on the board, Ms. Crabtree, and anticipate a good working relationship with her, but I will miss Kurt’s bold leadership.”

Melissa Crabtree is an ardent opponent of wearing face masks. She will, one expects, continue to oppose science and public health measures as a member of the state board.

As a reader in Okahoma said to me in an email, “I think I am living in bizarro world.”