Last week, an Oklahoma County district judge ordered Epic Charter Schools — which recently became the state’s largest school district — to pay a state senator $500,000 in sanctions and $36,000 in legal fees.
The order was the latest development in the dispute between the fast-growing charter school, which largely delivers education through an online format, and Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee.
In the summer of 2019, Sharp raised questions about the school’s student attendance and enrollment practices. He has questioned how the charter school could have received millions in state funding for 3,000 to 4,000 students in middle and high school when the Epic Blended Learning Centers in which they were enrolled could be attended only by students in early education and elementary school grades.
Epic sued him, seeking at least $75,000 in damages, but Oklahoma County District Judge Cindy Truong dismissed the suit, saying Sharp’s comments and news releases about Epic didn’t meet the legal standard to prove libel and slander against a public entity.
Sharp said he was pleased with the results and will continue to work to ensure proper oversight and use of state funds. A spokeswoman for Epic said the judge’s ruling was wrong and will be appealed.
We have long admired Sharp’s tenacious efforts to keep an eye on how Epic uses state education funding. Oklahoma doesn’t appropriate enough money to support its public schools adequately, and it’s essential that every penny be used appropriately and efficiently.
We hope Epic will drop this issue. The school has the same protections against defamation as any other Oklahoma business, but spending public money brings with it appropriate scrutiny — as every Oklahoma public school district knows. We have to think that Epic’s efforts would be better spent making sure it is providing an excellent education to its students than pursuing this dispute any further.