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Millions in state aid go to online charter schools in Oklahoma

While other states have taken action to prevent them from opening to the public, the number of online charter schools is set to grow significantly in Oklahoma.
by Andrew Knittle Modified: December 31, 2013 at 5:00 pm •  Published: December 30, 2013

While other states have taken action to prevent them from opening to the public, the number of online charter schools is set to grow significantly in Oklahoma.

The state Education Department already has provided several million dollars to the state's two online charter schools, despite questions about the effectiveness of such institutions.

Now, three additional online charter schools want to join the ranks in Oklahoma as the state Board of Education investigates whether one of the two existing schools may have misrepresented how many full-time students are enrolled.

Epic One on One charter school, whose practices are being looked into by the Education Department, will receive more than $10 million in state funds this school year. It was founded in 2011 and has about 3,000 enrolled students, Education Department records show.

The other online charter school operating in Oklahoma — the Oklahoma Virtual Charter Academy — will likely get millions, as well. But as of right now, it's only been allotted about $80,000 for the current school year.

Tricia Pemberton, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, said online charter schools don't get all of their funding until a midyear count is completed and certified.

“Existing charters can only count resident students in the initial allocation,” Pemberton said. “Nonresident students (those outside of the sponsoring district's boundaries) are counted at midyear if they are continuing to be served by the virtual school.

“Oklahoma Virtual Charter only had 26 resident students for the initial count. They may get more money at midyear.”

Indeed, an analysis of Education Department records shows that the Choctaw-Nicoma Park School District, the sponsoring district for the Oklahoma Virtual Charter Academy, received roughly $3 million in additional state aid when the online-only school opened to the public.

Both online charter schools in Oklahoma have strong ties to for-profit companies that have drawn scrutiny in other states for their business practices and how they calculate enrolled students.

Epic One on One is serviced by Advanced Academics, while Oklahoma Virtual Charter Academy works with K12 Inc. to provide educational services to its students.

Two of the three potential online charter schools, whose applications are pending, also have ties to for-profit companies, Education Department records show.

K12 Inc. draws scrutiny

Education officials in states across the nation have been targeting K12 Inc. in the past year, for a variety of reasons, according to media reports.

An online charter school in Colorado recently ended its relationship with K12 Inc. after auditors determined the company had overcharged the state for students who may or may not have been enrolled at the school.

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by Andrew Knittle
Investigative Reporter
Andrew Knittle has covered state water issues, tribal concerns and major criminal proceedings during his career as an Oklahoma journalist. He has won reporting awards from the state's Associated Press bureau and prides himself on finding a real...
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