Virtual board has lack of experience, potential conflicts

October 23, 2020

Ray Carter

The members of the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, which recently launched a review of its contract with Epic Charter Schools following a critical state audit, generally lack experience with charter schools and appear to have limited experience in online education.

At the same time, a majority of board members have been accused of having conflicts of interest.

Of the five members of the board, several have worked in traditional public schools, but apparently not in charter schools that must compete for students. Only one of the five members appears to have any experience working for a direct provider of virtual education, based on biographical information the members have posted online at the virtual board’s web site.

John D. Harrington, the representative for the Fifth Congressional District who serves as chairman of the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, is the CEO of Funds For Learning, a nationwide consulting firm that specializes in regulatory compliance with the federal E-rate funding program for schools and libraries. The federal E-rate funding program provides discounts for school Internet connection.

Robert Franklin, the appointee representing the First Congressional District, serves as vice-chairman of the board. Franklin is currently associate superintendent for student affairs at Tulsa Technology Center. While the Tulsa Technology Center does offer some material online as well as in-person instruction, much of Franklin’s education career has been spent in a traditional public-school setting. Prior to taking his current position with Tulsa Technology Center, Franklin worked for 29 years in the Sand Springs school district, including as a principal and assistant superintendent.

While the recent state audit was critical of Epic’s spending on advertising, Oklahoma’s CareerTech schools have also advertised, including at least one television ad placed during the most recent Super Bowl game.

Phyllis Shepherd, the appointee for the Second Congressional District, is a middle school math director who worked for 30 years in education. Shepherd’s bio notes that she is a member of Oklahoma Education Association, National Education Association, and Oklahoma Retired Teacher Association.

Mathew Hamrick, the representative for the Third Congressional District, is currently employed with the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and previously worked as a consultant with an international educational not-for-profit foundation traveling to universities throughout the United States and Canada providing training to student groups in organizational behavior, leadership development, and finances.

Barry Beauchamp, who represents the Fourth Congressional District on the board, is a former superintendent of Lawton Public Schools who also served on the Oklahoma Commission for Teacher Preparation and the Governor’s Task Force on Creating Administrative Efficiencies. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for the National Association of Federally Impacted Schools, which advocates for increased government funding of schools in districts that have limited local property tax bases due to the presence of nontaxable federal property, such as military installations, Indian lands, federal low-income housing, and national parks.

The Tulsa World recently reported that Shepherd is the aunt of David Chaney, one of Epic Charter Schools co-founders. Shepherd told the World that Chaney’s “grandmother was my half-sister, and she was like 14 years older,” saying there is “not a close relationship” with Chaney.

Hamrick did not attend the recent meeting of the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board meeting, but an item on the board’s agenda for that meeting dealt with his potential recusal. Chaney contributed to Hamrick’s unsuccessful 2017 campaign for Senate District 45. Hamrick was one of seven Republican candidates to file in the special election race for that seat, which came open following the resignation of the incumbent. The agenda item was tabled due to Hamrick’s absence.

Epic officials have also argued the customer base for Harrington’s consulting business includes traditional public schools who have been losing students to Epic. Harrington did not respond to a request for a list of all schools that are part of his company’s client base.

The Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board members are appointed by the governor and the legislative leaders of the state Senate and Oklahoma House of Representatives.