On-line education in Oklahoma, from my email box

I have not applied further indentation:

“…this is seemingly starting to be a big deal in OK, but flying under the radar.

Background:
  • 10-15 years ago Oklahoma passed a law allowing online-only charter schools with a separate regulatory structure from physical charter schools.
  • Critically, the unions did not think to push for an enrollment cap.
  • There are 5-10 schools, all quite small, except for one named EPIC.
About EPIC:
  • Has enrollment (~38,000) that is larger than any district in the state. This enrollment is currently surging faster than its usual high growth because of COVID-19 and could reach 46,000 by the Oct 1 “Money Head Count” deadline.
  • From Oct 1, 2018 to Oct 1, 2019, EPIC’s enrollment grew more than the enrollment growth for the entire state of OK.
  • Like all public charters in OK, the school is free to attend. Parents get paid $1000 per student per year for school supplies and activities.
  • They have 100% online and blended learning options. Teachers in the online-only are paid by how many students they take on and can earn over $100,000. The state average pay for teachers is just over $50,000/yr.
  • They are a non-profit but they are run by a closely related for-profit management company that is paid 10% of gross revenue. (Incentives!)
  • Everyone in OK education that isn’t EPIC, hates EPIC. The state has multiple lawsuits and audits alleging that they have been committing fraud. These go back as far as 2012 but none have yet been resolved, even with open investigations by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. The alleged amounts are less than 1% of cumulative revenue.
Comparison to Regular Schools:
  • An Oklahoma Watch survey from several years ago found that parents were choosing EPIC primarily because they felt their students were falling behind at their districted school, were escaping bullying, or had a desire to pursue other activities i.e. competitive gymnastics.
  • On the Oklahoma State Dept. of Education A-F scorecard, EPIC scores better than every traditional Oklahoma City Public Schools and Tulsa Public Schools middle school or high school. It performs roughly near the state average.
  • 4-year high school graduation rates are SIGNIFICANTLY lower than traditional schools.
  • It seems likely this is because with the online format you cannot graduate without completing assignments on time. There are OKCPS schools that have 1% of students performing at grade level and 95% graduation rates.
  • Total Oklahoma K-12 enrollment for 2019-2020 was ~700,000. So EPIC is now over 5% of total state enrollment. They have been growing roughly 50%/year, but that was starting to slow some before the pandemic.

Enrollment Article:

https://oklahoman.com/article/5667424/surge-pushes-epic-charter-schools-to-highest-enrollment-in-state

And they are trying to scale gamification of learning:

https://oklahoman.com/article/5667051/in-oklahoma-remote-learning-goes-to-the-next-level

Like most online education providers, retention has been their weakest point.

Oklahoma schools are required to have each school facility staffed with a certain number of non-teaching positions (librarian, counselor, etc.) so fixed costs are very high. Teacher salaries are usually 35-40% of the budget and are one of the only variable cost centers. Most money is allocated by the state, following the student. EPIC is not far from doing real damage to traditional school finances. This does not seem to be on most people’s radar. It could get more interesting, yet.

Austin Vernon”

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