Ryan Walters may be interested in something, but it sure doesn't seem to be public education. And yet, he is poised to be Oklahoma's top education honcho. His latest egregious harassment of an educator in order to score political points should be a disqualifier all by itself, but it's only the latest rung on his ladder.
Getting startedRyan Walters graduated from Harding University ("Faith, Learning, Living"), a private Christian university in Arkansas that didn't accept Black students until 1963. Walters graduated in 2010 with a degree in history.
In 2019 he gave up his teaching gig to serve as the executive director of Oklahoma Achieves, the state Chamber of Commerce initiative that pulled big bucks from, among others, the Walton Family Foundation. Oklahoma Achieves would soon transform itself into Every Kid Counts Oklahoma, a "new education reform organization" that wants to give everyone "access to quality education." EKCO has been especially reluctant to provide their required IRS disclosure forms, but The Oklahoman did pry some info loose; donors include the Waltons, Yes Every Kid (a Charles Koch operation).
Walters had been plenty enthusiastic about privatizing the operation of the voucher program:
But ClassWallet has been clear that they have no intention of seeing the undercarriage of this particular bus.
“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.
As the Norman Transcript Editorial Board reports:
While $8 million of the money was meant to fund education resources for individual students, Walters did not set any limits or guidelines on how families could use the money — when ClassWallet asked for his thoughts on limitations, Walters gave “blanket approval” to any item a family wanted to purchase through approved vendors.
And while Governor Stitt wouldn't agree to an interview with Oklahoma Watch, his spokeswoman Carly Atchison did offer this in a written statement:
During the COVID pandemic, Governor Stitt had a duty to get federal relief funds to students and families in Oklahoma as quickly as possible and he accomplished just that.
Well, yes. He could also have dumped the money in piles in various school parking lots. That would have been quick, too.
And he wasn't all that successful. The program shut down a day early "after federal investigators and attorneys for the state discovered the company was operating on an expired contract with almost no government supervision" and Oklahoma returned $2.9 million unspent relief dollars to the feds. A federal audit gave the program lowest marks all across the board.
I saw this as an opportunity for my kids who were seeing their stories hidden to skirt that directive. Nowhere in my directives did it say we can't put a QR code on a wall.
She recognized the school district was in a tight spot and said she placed most of the blame on Oklahoma Republicans for fomenting what she described as a growing culture of fear, confusion and uncertainty in schools.
Amid that climate, Boismier said, she doesn’t feel like she has a place in an Oklahoma classroom.
“These teachers need to be taken out and shot,” “teachers like this should not only be fired but also should be swinging from a tree,” “If Summer tried this in Afghanistan, they’d cut out her tongue for starters,” are just a minuscule fraction of the threats pouring into Summer Boismier’s inbox.