Archives for category: Virtual Charter Schools

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.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking to the North Texas School Boards Association by Zoom. Right now, Texas is ground zero for the charter industry. This is astonishing because the public schools in Texas far outperform the charter schools. The charter school lobby markets themselves as “saviors” of children, but they are far more likely to fail than public schools. This is a summary of what I told my friends in Texas:

I am a graduate of the Houston public schools. My father, who grew up in Savannah, never finished high school; my mother, who was born in Bessarabia, was very proud of her high school diploma from the Houston public schools.

I believe that all of us, whether or not we have children, whether or not we have children in public school, have a civic obligation to support public schools, just as we must support other public services, like police, firefighting, public roads, public parks, and public libraries. Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society, and no investment is more precious than investing in the education of our children. They are our future. 

Texas, like every other state, guarantees a free public education to everyone. The clause in the state constitution says:

A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.

As constitutional scholar Derek Black shows in his book Schoolhouse Burning, the founding fathers of this nation wanted every state to provide free public education. They didn’t have it in their own time, but they saw it as essential to the future of the nation. In the Northwest Ordinance of 1785, the Founders said that any territory that wanted to become a state had to set aside one lot in each town for a tax-supported public school. Not a private academy supported by tax funds, but a tax-supported public school.

The leadership of Texas doesn’t care about the state constitution. Every time the legislature is in session, someone offers a bill to send public funds to religious schools, which are not public schools. Thus far, a coalition of urban Democrats and rural Republicans and the dedicated leadership of Pastors for Texas Children has defeated vouchers.

The Republicans who control the state have substituted charters for vouchers in their eagerness to provide alternatives to the right guaranteed by the state constitution. And they have not given up on vouchers.

Texas now has more than 800 charter schools. These are schools under private management, paid for with tax dollars. Contrary to their marketing strategy, they are not public schools. Some of those charters are part of big corporations, like KIPP or IDEA. Some are nonprofit schools that are managed by for-profit corporations. The GOP leadership wants more of them, even though the existing public schools are underfunded and have not recovered from a devastating budget cut of more than $5 billion in 2011.

When the idea of charter schools first emerged in the early 1990s, I was enthusiastic about their promise. I was in Washington, DC, working as Assistant Secretary of Education for Research in the first Bush administration. We heard from their sponsors that charter schools would be more innovative, would cost less than public schools because of their lack of bureaucracy, would be more successful, and would be more accountable than public schools because they were free of most regulations. 

Three decades later, this is what have we learned: 

   a). Charter schools are not more innovative than public schools. The only innovation associated with charters is harsh disciplinary practices called “No excuses,” where children are punished for minor infractions of strict rules. The largest charter chain in Chicago, the Noble Network, recently announced that it was getting rid of “no excuses” because it is a racist policy, meant to force black children to adopt white middle-class values.  

    b) Charter schools are not more accountable than public schools. In most states, the charter associations fight any effort to impose accountability or transparency. They don’t want to be audited by independent auditors. The only time they are accountable is when they close their doors because of low enrollment or abject academic failure. 

    c) Charter schools do not cost less than public schools. They typically demand the same public funding as public schools, even though the public schools pick up some of their costs, like transportation, and even though they have fewer high-need students than public schools. In some states, like Texas, charter schools get more public money than public schools.

    d) Charter schools are less effective than public schools. Those that have high test scores choose their students and families carefully and push out those they don’t want. On average they don’t outperform public schools, and they spend more money on administration than public schools. In some states, like Ohio, the majority of charter schools are rated D or F. 

Charters are unstable. They open and close like day lilies. Sometimes in mid-semester, leaving their students stranded.

The worst charter schools are the virtual schools. 

The state pays the cybercharters full tuition to provide nothing more than a computer, a remote teacher, and some textbooks. They charge double or triple their actual costs.

Virtual charter schools have high attrition rates, low graduation rates, and low test scores.

There have been huge scandals associated with virtual charter schools.

In Ohio, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow collected close to a billion dollars over 18 years. It was started by a businessman, who made generous contributions to political leaders. It had one of the lowest high school graduation rates in the nation. In 2017, ECOT was audited by the state and found to have collected tuition for phantom students. Rather than pay the state $80 million, ECOT declared bankruptcy in 2018. No one was fined, no one went to prison, no one was held accountable.

The biggest scandal in charter history was the A3 virtual charter chain. It had a massive scheme to enroll fake students. Eleven people were indicted. Eventualy, the leaders of A3 agreed to repay the state $215 million.

The largest of the virtual charters is K12 Inc; it is registered on NY Stock Exchange. Its results are familiar: high attrition, low test scores, low graduation rates. Their top executives are paid millions of dollars each. K12 is are operating in dozens of states.

Poor academic performance is not punished; financial fraud is not punished. There is no accountability. 

IDEA in Texas is in a class of its own when it comes to luxuries. They get hundreds of millions of tax-payer dollars, but they decided they needed to lease a private jet for their executives. When the story got into the newspapers, they dropped that idea. The media also reported that IDEA bought season tickets for special seating at San Antonio Spurs games. When the CEO decided to retire, he received a $1 million golden parachute. How many school superintendents do you know who got such a generous going-away present?

Charter schools claim that they “save poor kids from failing schools.” 

That’s not true. There are currently some 356,000 students in charter schools in Texas. Three-quarters of them are enrolled in charter schools in A or B school districts. The charter school students are being drawn away from successful schools in successful districts.

The charter lobby claims that there are long waiting lists. Don’t believe it. The so-called wait lists are manufactured. They are never audited. In Los Angeles, at least 80% of the existing charters have empty seats, yet still the lobbyists talk about wait lists. In New York City, charters buy advertising on city buses. When you have a waiting list, you don’t buy advertising.

The charter industry in Texas has a number of charter expansions already approved and expects to grow by 50,000 students every year. Unless the legislature plans to increase spending on education, charter growth will mean budget cuts for public schools. Charters in Texas currently divert $3 billion a year from public schools. Since they started, they have diverted more than $20 billion that should have gone to the state’s public schools. 

Charter schools in Texas are not more successful than public schools. Texas researcher William Gumbert reported that 86% of public school districts are rated either A or B by the state, compared to 58.6% of charter schools. Only 2.6% of public school districts were rated D or F, compared to 17.7% of charter schools.  

Texas Public Radio reported that graduation rates at charter schools were 30 points lower than the rates at public high schools. 

Two economists—Will Dobbie and Roland Fryer—studied the outcomes of charter schools in Texas. They concluded that charter schools have “no impact on test scores and a negative impact on earnings.”

William Gumbert, an independent analyst in Texas, has calculated that graduates of charter schools enter college less well prepared and are less likely to perform well in college, compared to students who went to public schools. He reported that the 2019 state ratings showed nearly 40% of charters approved by the state have been closed. 

The charters claim that they can close historic achievement gaps between children of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. This is not true. According to careful research by analyst Gumbert, public schools do a better job of narrowing the achievement gaps between black and white students and between Hispanic and white students than charters in the same districts. 

Again, using state records, Gumbert found that graduates of public schools were more successful in college than graduates of charter schools. Public school graduates were more likely to have a higher grade-point average in freshman year than charter school graduates. First-year grade-point average has been shown to predict college graduation. 

Now the charter industry is lobbying for a vast expansion in Texas. They don’t want to have to deal with elected school boards or other elected officials. Democracy is a nuisance, an obstacle. So they are promoting SB 28, which would remove any elected school boards or elected municipal officials from the charter approval process. The state board of education could veto a charter application only with a supermajority. Only one appointed state official—the State Commissioner, appointed by the Governor– would decide whether charters may invade your district, recruit the students they want and locate the charter school wherever they want. That is a major blow to local control of schools. 

Why are state officials in Texas, why is the Legislature, opposed to local control of schools?

After three decades of experience, we have learned about the policies and practices of charter corporations.

First, many charter schools are run by non-educators. They see a business opportunity and they compete for market share. 

Second, they market charter schools by making extravagant claims. They promise that their students will be successful in school and will go to college even before they open their doors. As we have seen, this is usually false.

Third, the few that get high test scores do so by cherry-picking their students or by setting the standards so high that only high-scoring students choose to enroll. BASIS is an example of that. Students have to pass a certain number of AP exams to graduate, so average students need not apply. In Arizona, where most of the state’s students are Hispanic or Native American, the BASIS schools enroll mostly white and Asian students.

Fourth, some charter schools raise test scores by pushing out students who get low scores. That means excluding students with disabilities and students who don’t speak or read English. It also means counseling out or finding creative ways to discourage the kids who are discipline problems or the kids who perform poorly on tests. The most successful charter chain in NYC accepts kids by lottery in kindergarten. Then they begin weeding out those they don’t want, and after third grade, no new students are accepted. By senior year, most of the students who started in K or first grade have disappeared

Fifth, charter schools typically hire young and inexperienced teachers who cost less than older experienced teachers. The turnover is high—sometimes as much as half the staff leaves every year and is replaced by newcomers to teaching. 

Sixth, the true secret of charter expansion is the money behind them. They are supported by a long list of billionaires who want to eliminate public schools. They mock our community schools as “government schools,” but they might as well mock our community police officers as “government security agents.” Our community public schools belong to “we, the people.” We pay for them with our taxes. They reflect our community history. They have the trophies that our parents, our cousins, our aunts and uncles won at football, basketball, baseball, volleyball, chess, and debate tournaments. They are audited and overseen by our neighbors. We elect the school board, and if we don’t agree with their decisions, we elect another one. 

Don’t give your public dollars to entrepreneurs and corporations to educate your children. 

Don’t replace your public schools with a free market where schools compete for customers. Markets produce winners and losers, not equality of educational opportunity. Use your tax dollars to make your public schools the best they can be for all the children.

Whatever your political views are, these schools belong to you, not to Wall Street or libertarian billionaires or opportunists. Tell your legislators to support your public schools. 

School choice means that the schools choose.

Public schools must take everyone. 

School choice is a hoax.

Don’t fund failure.

At a time when there are so many divisions in our society, we need our public schools to teach appreciation for our common heritage as Americans and as Texans.

I especially appeal to those with conservative values: Conservative conserve. Conservatives don’t blow up traditional institutions. People who want to blow up community institutions are anarchists, not conservatives.

Preserve and improve your community public schools for future generations. 

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

Darcie Cimarusti, communications director for the Network for Public Education, reports on the assault on public school funding in Iowa. K12 Inc., the for-profit virtual charter chain, listed on the New York Stock Exchange, is noted for high attrition rates, low graduation rates, low test scores, and high profits. Its top executives are each paid millions of dollars.

In multiple states across the country omnibus schools choice bills with sweeping charter and voucher provisions have been introduced. NPE Action has been following these bills here. Just such a bill was introduced in Iowa, SSB 1065 which would modify the state’s existing charter school law, which requires the approval of a local school board, to allow charter applicants to apply directly to the state board for a charter with no local approval required. Lobbying disclosures show that K12 Inc., which recently rebranded as Stride, Inc., has lobbied in favor of the bill

Should the Iowa legislature send this bill to Governor Kim Reynolds’ desk, no doubt K12’s lobbying efforts will intensify. Currently K12 operates 51 online charter schools in 20 states. 

Iowa may be next.

Will Huntsberry of Voice of San Diego writes here about one of the biggest scams in the history of charter schools (the biggest was probably the ECOT–Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow–scandal in Ohio, which cost the state about $500 million).

The two ringleaders of an online charter school scam that raked in hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges on Friday. 

Sean McManus and Jason Schrock, as well as nine other defendants, including a superintendent, were charged back in 2019 as part of a complicated scheme that involved enrolling fake students into their online charter schools and collecting public money for each student...

“The general activity is you and your friend got these millions of dollars from the state and you funneled them into your pocket, correct?” asked San Diego Superior Court Judge Frederick Link, while taking the pleas. 

Both answered yes. 

Online charter schools are allowed to collect just as much money per student as brick-and-mortar schools. But the case has pushed legislators in Sacramento to re-examine the rules surrounding online charters. Lawmakers passed a two-year moratorium on the creation of new online charters and are considering changes to the state’s enrollment and funding practices. 

Over a several-year period leading up to 2019, McManus and Schrock’s schools brought in roughly $400 million in revenue, prosecutors from the San Diego District Attorney’s Office have said. 

As part of McManus and Schrock’s plea deal, they have agreed to turn over all remaining cash and assets owned by A3 and its subsidiary companies. So far, that includes at least $215 million that will eventually make its way back into state coffers. 

A3 may have misappropriated more than $215 million but that was all the cash and assets they had.

The next time someone insists that “charter schools are public schools,” ask them when was the last time that they heard of a public school stealing $215 million from the state.

A CREDO report in 2015 found that going to an online virtual charter was equivalent to a full year’s of lost time in mathematics, and almost half a year in reading. Yet numerous states are now considering legislating that would fund the child in any kind of school–charter, religious, for-profit, virtual, home schooling, Uncle Jed’s barn, whatever they want. We are rapidly advancing backwards to the 19th century.

I have been writing for many years about the low quality “education” that virtual charter schools provide their students. They make fabulous promises in their marketing materials, but the results for their schools are awful. Their students have low test scores, low graduation rates, and high attrition rates. Their teachers often have huge classes. Study after study has demonstrated that those who attend these virtual charters get a very poor quality education. One CREDO study found that it was equivalent to not going to school at all. K12 Inc. is fabulously profitable, but not for its students.

A teacher responded to this post by writing the following comment on this blog:

Indeed, “It IS worth pondering why and how the Democratic Party abandoned its longstanding belief in equitable, well-resourced public schools as a common good.” As a newly credentialed secondary school teacher in California, my first (and, to date, last) full-time “public school” employment occurred at CA Virtual Academies, a subsidiary of K12, inc. (now a.k.a. Stride).

Little did I know when I began that the challenges of public school teaching would extend far beyond meeting with students and striving to my utmost ability to connect them with subject matter discipline in authentic and invigorating ways, especially via remote learning in the “virtual” world of computer technology. Most challenging and ultimately most responsible for my having to leave teaching (hopefully temporarily) was the for-profit, private publicly traded corporation’s administrators’ demands not only that I perform an inhuman amount of work but that I do it without thought for the quality of education my students received and for less money than my brick-and-mortar school teacher counterparts.

When my human system (body, heart, and mental health) broke under the strain of their inhuman work schedule, CAVA’s corporate policy to prohibit supervisors from writing professional letters of recommendation for their former teachers sounded the death knell for my up-until-then promising teaching career.

Now, heart-broken and soul-sick from losing a job I loved while I WAS able to perform it and a career I relied upon for survival, I am struggling to muster the strength and humility necessary to begin substitute or part-time teaching again, essentially starting my career all over again as no school will hire me without professional letters of recommendation written within the past one to three years.

I am incredulous, especially in light of COVID-19’s inevitable effect on public education, that the federal government allowed for-profit corporations K12, inc. and Pearson Education to develop and mass distribute their Virtual Academies and Connections Academies across the nation over the past decade or so primarily at the tax-payers’ expense without at least also developing a state-sponsored and US Education Department “owned” Virtual School program as well.

Though it seems nauseatingly naive in retrospect, I had hoped and at one time believed that “free and fair education for all” could and logically should include our nation’s public schools having efficient access to the technologies and mass deployment systems for online education which our tax dollars have paid for.

Instead, I now realize that an otherwise logical process of voting tax payers receiving the public education they deserve has been perhaps irrevocably hijacked and perverted by the “double-speak” of “school choice” proponents and the contemporary scourge of insatiably greedy corporations.

You have my profoundest albeit bitter-sweet Gratitude, Ms. Ravitch, for your having the courage, tenacity, and strong stomach to share the truth about public education in this nation: If I did not have you and a few others like you to read and learn from, I would be hopelessly lost in despair and disbelief. Thank you and please keep searching out the truth behind lies.

Peter Greene describes the shocked reaction of charter operators when Governor Tom Wolf proposed that they be regularly audited and that their payments should be aligned with 5heir services. Pennsylvania has a funding formula that is heavily tilted to favor the charter industry. Their lobbyists want to keep it that way.

In his 2020 budget speech, Wolf tried to soothe the industry and thread the needle, saying that Pennsylvania students should get a great education “whether in a traditional public school or a charter school” an noting that “Pennsylvania has a history of school choice, which I support.” But he also said that some charter schools are “little more than fronts for private management companies, and the only innovations they’re coming up with involve finding new ways to take money out of the pockets of property taxpayers.”

The 2021 budget has several features to tighten up Pennsylvania’s exceptionally loose charter industry. 

Pennsylvania’s 14 cyber charters will be audited. “Wait,” you say. “the cyber charters aren’t audited?” The answer is “barely;” six of the charters have never been audited at all, and the largest cyber charter in the state, Commonwealth Charter Academy, was last audited in 2012. 

The proposal also targets cyber charter funding, one of the deeply nonsensical features of the Pennsylvania charter landscape. Cybers get 100% of the same payment as a brick and mortar charter school–even though they have no bricks, no mortar, and none of the other expenses of an actual school building. Consequently, cyber schools in PA are making money hand over fist, and taxpayer dollars go to things like advertising ($1,000 per student recruited at one charter) and, no kidding, a cool robot dog. The governor proposes to set a statewide cyber tuition rate that is still mighty generous. The state’s in-house online education program costs about $5,400 per student per year, and the governor proposes a set $9,500 tuition rate.

The proposal also looks to fix the charter reimbursement rate for special ed. Currently, a charter gets the same high payment rate for all special ed students, whether they need a full-time aid and extensive specialized supports, or they just need a few adaptations in a regular classroom. That has made students with special needs into cash cows in PA. This is extra nuts because PAS actually has a tiered system for rating special needs–it just isn’t used when paying charters. The governor’s proposal is that charters should be paid an amount in line with the actual costs of educating the students.

The governor also proposes more oversight and accountability for the Education Improvement Tax Credit and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit, Pennsylvania’s two tax credit scholarship (aka voucher) programs.

Wolf also plans to address Pennsylvania’s funding inequities, among the very worst in the nation, with a nearly $2 billion increase in school spending. So charters get less, and public schools get more (including getting to keep more of the public tax dollars they used to have to hand over to charters).

None of this is a hit with the school choice crowd. It’s a little nuts, really, because the governor’s proposal boils down to “Pay the charters what it actually costs to educate the students instead of paying them what it costs to educate the students PLUS a big fat taxpayer-funded bonus.” It’s an exceptionally not-very-radical proposal.

But the pushback is already coming, because GOP leaders in the House and Senate are already prepped and ready to join the national push for more choiciness

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.”