Oklahoma’s Largest Online Charter School Sees Record Growth

Published January 9, 2017

Enrollment in Oklahoma’s first online charter school has grown by nearly 200 percent during the past three years.

Epic Charter Schools, a state-accredited virtual charter school formed in 2011, currently enrolls nearly 8,500 students, almost triple the number enrolled during the 2014–15 school year.

Epic uses “unconventional efforts” to drive enrollment, such as giving out prizes to families for student referrals, Oklahoma Watch reported in September, and “by depositing bonus money into ‘learning fund’ accounts that families can use to buy their curriculum or computers or defray fees for extracurricular activities such as dancing, club sports, or archery.”

Epic has opened a branch school in California. The Orange County Register reported in November Anaheim Union High School District Mike Matsuda called the learning fund element of the school “predatory marketing.” Ken Williams, a county trustee who voted to approve Epic, called the allegations against Epic “pure politics,” and “a witch hunt,” the Register reported.  

‘Parents Are Happy’

Epic Charter Schools Superintendent David Chaney says satisfied customers are the reason for the school’s burgeoning student population.

“The biggest reason Epic is growing is that parents are happy with the service we provide, and they tell other parents, who in turn enroll their kids,” Chaney said. “People are becoming more comfortable with technology, so what may have seemed hard to grasp a decade ago is commonplace today.”

Chaney says recent technological advances allow for a much more personalized learning experience.

“Today’s technology allows for personalized, one-on-one, face-to-face interaction between a certified teacher and a student that occurs both through the computer and in person,” Chaney said. “It allows students to learn at the pace that’s right for them in an environment that’s comfortable for them.”

‘Virtual School Can Be a Lifeline’

Colleen Cook, national director of Public School Options, says this form of school choice can help those who need it the most.

“For many families, virtual school is the right option,” Cook said. “For students who were failing at their previous school, suffered at the hands of bullies, moved frequently with the military, or have to deal with a serious medical condition, virtual school can be a lifeline.”

Chaney says society is becoming more aware that the one-size-fits-all approach to education doesn’t work.

“At Epic, we serve many students with exceptional talents and life situations, such as serious athletes who need a flexible schedule to fully develop their potential and are able to get a high-quality education while working toward their dreams,” Chaney said.

‘In the Hands of Families’

Epic’s “Student Learning Fund” gives families money for educational expenditures to purchase supplies toward helping each student meet his or her educational goals. Items purchased through the Student Learning Fund become property of the school, and families are free to use them as long as their children are enrolled at Epic.

Chaney says this aspect of the Epic experience gives families more flexibility to customize their learning experience.

“Our Student Learning Fund puts control back into the hands of families,” Chaney said. “Many students use the funds for instructional technology, laptops, internet access, software, chemistry sets, or even extracurricular activities.”

‘Parents Should Be Trusted’

Cook says school choice is about having faith in parents.

“Parents should be trusted with their children’s education decisions, and that includes having a full menu of school choice options,” Cook said. “Whether it’s a magnet school, brick-and-mortar charter school, or public virtual school, we want parents to be able to choose the learning environment that works best for their child.

“The most important thing we can do to empower parents is to give them options and trust them with their children’s education,” Cook said.

Jenni White ([email protected]) writes from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma