Watch Now: Tulsa Public Schools leaders push back against state lawmakers’ criticism of local pandemic decision-making | Education

Tulsa Superintendent Deborah Gist didn’t mince words in rejecting Haste’s claims about a connection between the quality of TPS’ pandemic offerings, which also include a virtual academy, and a statewide uptick in Epic enrollment.

“They (Epic Charter Schools) have been doing it (online instruction) a lot longer, so the argument could be made they’re better at it,” Haste said. “The argument could be made you’re making it easier for them to go over to Epic.”

Gist responded: “They posit that they have been doing it longer and they’re better at it. The truth is they are not better at it — they’re not good at it. Their students struggle. Part of that is virtual learning is hard.”

Gist also questioned the correlation Haste made by pointing out that lawmakers have allowed Epic to entice families with recruiting incentives and through the use of “millions of taxpayer dollars for advertising that paints this really rosy picture.”

“And I’m going to set aside the concerns about fraud for now,” Gist added, referring to state and federal law enforcement investigations still underway into Epic’s financial practices.

Board member John Croisant told Haste that all local school districts had recorded declines in students, saying Epic had not just picked up new students from TPS but also from the growing suburbs of Owasso, Broken Arrow and Bixby.