Oklahoma is one of several states where the administration thought that federal pandemic relief funds would be perfect to fund their dream of a school voucher program. But things didn't turn out so well.
Governor Kevin Stitt grabbed the $18 million of Governor's Emergency Education Relief Funds and set up some voucher programs with the goal to "just get the money to the families."newly-appointed education chief Ryan Walters (currently running to be elected to the post) had a bright idea-- get the Florida company Class Wallet. That's what the company does-- administers the distribution of money through voucher and neo-voucher programs. Heck--right now they're running a banner on their site trumpeting "Seeking a Solution for Emergency Relief Programs?" So Class Wallet got the job-- without even having to bid.
Walters was a busy guy (including sending textbook companies letters warning them not to try to sneak any of that CRT stuff into Oklahoma), but he still had time to record a video entitled "How to Launch a Scholarship Program in 4 Weeks with Min Staffing Requirements," which appears on the Class Wallet channel. Yay, marketing.
Turns out Walters might have wanted to spend a week or two more on the project. $10 million went to private school vouchers because of course it did. The remaining $8 million went...well, many places, via ClassWallet's Bridge the Gap program.
Oklahoma Watch ("Impact journalism in the public interest") and The Frontier did some digging and found that GEER funds were used to buy things like Christmas trees, gaming consoles, electric fireplaces, and outdoor grills. About $191,000 in federal relief funds were used to buy 548 TVs. In all, about a half a million was spent on non-school related goods.
Walters had been plenty enthusiastic about privatizing the operation of the voucher program:“We didn’t have the government agency personnel with the background experience to do this and, quite frankly, we felt like there could be a more efficient way to do this outside our government agencies,” Walters said.
“As a software contractor, ClassWallet had neither responsibility for, nor authority to exercise programmatic decision making with respect to the program or its associated federal funds and did not have responsibility for grant compliance,” company spokesman Henry Feintuch said in a statement.