CHARTER SCHOOL APPLICATIONS ASSISTED BY OKC'S BEN HARRIS; OKLAHOMA CITY MAN IS BEHIND A DOZEN CHARTER SCHOOL APPLICATIONS THAT HAVE TIES TO FORMER COLLEAGUES WHO NOW RUN NEW COMPANIES, September 5, 2010, The Oklahoman (OK)
Ben Harris, an Oklahoma City man who is working on a dozen charter school applications in other states, is behind a proposed virtual charter school in Oklahoma that sued the state Education Department.
Harris is listed as a registered agent for Community Strategies Inc., the nonprofit that is opening Epic 1 on 1 Charter School. He uses his home address on the corporate papers, and he worked behind the scenes to get the school approved by the University of Central Oklahoma.
Harris, 35, is an expert on virtual charter schools. He worked on the applications of a dozen schools in Florida, California and Arizona for the Bricktown-based company Advanced Academics Inc.
Yet, Harris said all of the work he has done in Oklahoma is strictly on a volunteer basis to assist his childhood friend David Chaney, who is the founder of Epic 1 on 1 Charter School…
In 1999, about a year after graduating with a master's degree from Syracuse University, Harris became president of the fledgling Advanced Academics Inc. — a company that proposed selling access to online courses and teachers to schools across the nation.
Chaney, 31, has also worked at Advanced Academics in the past, said Jeff Elliott, the current president of the company.
Both Harris and Chaney got jobs in Florida with the Department of Children and Families in 2003. Harris eventually became the deputy secretary of the government agency beneath Secretary Jerry Regier, who previously served as Oklahoma secretary of health and human services.
In July 2004, a whistle-blower investigation revealed that Harris had accepted trips, dinners and other favors from companies looking to contract with the social services agency.
Harris resigned and a full criminal investigation conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement began. No charges were filed.
The investigation did find that both Harris and Chaney were involved in a number of questionable contracts awarded to vendors that appeared to circumvent the state's bidding process…