Archives for category: Oklahoma

The Rev. Dr. Robin Meyers writes in the Oklahoma Gazette about the state superintendent Ryan Walters, who is intent on playing the role of Ron DeSantis and indoctrinating the children of Oklahoma in his own narrow-minded views. Dr. Meyers refers to Ryan Walters as “the Tucker Carlson of education.”

This is a brilliant article. Open the link and read it in full.

Dr. Meyers writes:

Oklahoma’s new state schools superintendent is about to take a desperate situation and make it awful.

His plans for stamping out “wokeness,” critical race theory, and boys using the girl’s bathrooms sounds nothing like a plan to advance education, and more like a platform to become Ron DeSantis Jr. The irony of this culture war approach to education is transparently hypocritical. Walters claims to be all “for academics and against indoctrination,” while making it clear that he alone will decide who gets hired, who gets raises and what gets taught in our schools. That is the very definition of indoctrination.

Beware the zealot who is going to save you from something that may or may not exist and intends to burn down your house to do it. Beware the fearmonger who incites the masses to muzzle free and open discourse about dangerous ideas so that he can make duplicate zealots for even worse ideas. Beware the evangelist who rails against other people’s sins while lining his pocket from two jobs at taxpayers’ expense while vowing to cut wasteful government spending. Ryan Walters makes more than the governor.

Oklahoma is in a death-spiral when it comes to public education but the problem is not “woke” Santas and drag queens. It is an unlivable wage for one of society’s most important jobs with working conditions so abysmal, even dangerous, that teachers are burned out and leaving the profession in droves. Many are moving to Texas where they can earn far more, proving that we have lost the only Red River showdown that truly matters.

Walters’ answer is to impose a hiring and spending freeze, a decision “he alone” can make to fix it (just as Donald Trump put it), and then “he alone” will review every personnel and budget move so that “we” will hire folks who are in lockstep with his goals for our kids. Walters was a teacher, but he needs to review Venn diagrams, where “he” and “we” do not overlap.

In his attack on critical race theory, he has the audacity to quote Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream of living in a time when his four little children would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character (Walter’s campaign version of the quote is backwards, but hey, even teachers make mistakes).

“Unfortunately,” he continues, “a philosophy that teaches the opposite of this principle is ‘infecting’ our classrooms, and we need to put a stop to it.” CRT, he says, “is a dangerous and racist philosophy, and all it does is divide and characterize entire groups of people solely based on the color of their skin.”

If Walters said this in a classroom, one would hope that some very bright student might raise her hand to point out that characterizing entire groups of people based solely on the color of their skin was the norm before CRT. It is what King was fighting against and gave his life for. What sort of dream world is Walters living in? Or is that letting the whole Fox News crowd off too easily? They know exactly what they are doing.

They pretend that there is no separation of church and state because we were founded as a “Christian nation.” So, taxpayers of any religious persuasion, or no religious persuasion, can be forced to support white, wealthy, private Christian schools, while black and brown children can be warehoused in what’s left of the public schools. Then we can lie to them by pretending that America’s original sin is not systemic racism, but elite universities. We can’t assign books like Killers of the Flower Moon about the atrocities committed by white settlers against the Osage so they could steal their oil. That might make somebody “feel bad.”

Good teachers are what every kid deserves, says Walters, so let’s do merit pay based on student performance. This will guarantee that if you teach in a poor, underperforming school you will never get a raise, but if you teach in Deer Creek, you will end up making a six-figure salary. That will teach even the most idealistic among us to ignore the words of Jesus about helping “the last and the least of these.”

Walters is 100 percent pro-life of course, protecting who he calls “our most vulnerable.” But after they leave the womb, heaven help them if they are not straight white Christians. Their last, best hope to climb out of poverty would be a great public school education or a great teacher and mentor. Meanwhile, there is a mass-exodus of our best teachers, and it is about to accelerate.

As for diversity, equity, and inclusion, we will end up graduating students who don’t even know what those words mean or why they matter. As for the Second Amendment, Walters quotes the corrupt and disgraced NRA, saying that the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. This after more than one mass shooting a day since Jan. 1. Truth be known, what stops a good student with a good mind is a bad teacher with an emergency certification….

Than you, Dr. Meyers. You nailed it.

The Rev. Dr. Robin Meyers is pastor of First Congregational Church UCC in Norman and retired senior minister of Mayflower Congregational UCC in Oklahoma City. He is currently Professor of Public Speaking, and Distinguished Professor of Social Justice Emeritus in the Philosophy Department at Oklahoma City University, and the author of eight books on religion and American culture, the most recent of which is, Saving God from Religion: A Minister’s Search for Faith in a Skeptical Age. Visit

If you open the link, you will see other recent articles by The Rev. Dr. Meyers.

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, provides up-to-date insight about the politics of education in his state. One remarkable development, which he describes, is the likely approval of a “religious charter school.”

Incidentally, the rightwing Manhattan Institute—where bigot Chris Rufo is a senior fellow—says the time has come to fund religious charter schools.

This week in Oklahoma, as expected, State Superintendent Ryan Walters, Governor Kevin Stitt, and other far rightwing extremists continued their divisive and cruel campaigns. Legal and legislative investigations of scandals involving Gov. Stitt’s staffers were also advanced. And, as was also expected, more Republicans pushed back against ideology-driven privatization schemes. Also, the effects of Gov. Stitt’s unprecedented takeover of five state agencies have continued to make headlines in the Oklahoman and the Tulsa World.

As the Tulsa World reported:

“Walters’ proposed new rules on parental rights [which] would require schools to allow parents to inspect sexual education classroom materials and to have schools honor their written objections “in whole or in part” to sex ed “or any other instruction questioning beliefs or practices in sex, morality, or religion…”

And, “Walters’ proposed new rules on school library materials [to] define ‘pornographic materials’” and “to submit to the state a complete list of all books and other materials available in their school libraries and have a written policy for reviewing the ‘educational suitability and age-appropriate nature.’”

Walters also removed photos of educators in the Education Department Hall of Fame, to prevent the highlighting of “Union leaders and association heads.”  Walters said the Education Department will not be showing “union bosses.”

Oklahoma also made national news for ignoring the law requiring charter schools to be “‘nonsectarian’ in their programs and operations and that no sponsor may ‘authorize a charter school or program that is affiliated with a nonpublic sectarian school or religious institution.’” A Catholic church applied for a virtual school charter. This religious charter school would be funded by “as much as $2.5 million in state money to serve a projected 500 students in its first year.” The school would hire “educators, administrators, and coaches committed to living and teaching Christ’s truth” as understood by the Catholic Church.

Education Week also explained that some “legal experts are horrified at the proposition.”  For instance, Derek Black says, “The explicit merger of public education with religious organizations to deliver a public education to students is something we haven’t seen or even contemplated happening in our lifetimes.”

Moreover, “MAGA” Republicans continue to attack parents of transgender children. For instance, Sen. Shane Jett “said kids are being told lies that they can transition from one gender to another.” He added, “There is no spectrum of choice, … You are a boy. You are a girl.” Jett says “people are cashing in on transgender care” and he claimed “it involves horrific surgeries with cascading consequences.”

On the other hand, House Speaker McCall who previously opposed vouchers and who will probably be running for governor, advanced HB 2775 and HB 1935 which pushed back against Walters, Stitt, and other rightwingers.  I’ve long respected the legislative leaders who stood in support of McCall’s bills, but I don’t know how to respond to that compromise. On one hand, I’d offer a concurring opinion in regard to Rep. Rhonda Baker, who said, “We figured out the solution without selling out to special interest groups that were putting pressure on us,” and I’d push back in terms of what happened when the House members were “very diligent about being careful to protect our constituencies.” But clearly, McCall’s constituencies were rewarded.

Yes, these House members proposed a $150 million pay raise, while protecting teachers from another doomed-to-fail merit pay gamble, but they offered a mere $2,500 raise, which is 1/2 of the Senate’s proposed raise. McCall protected rural and affluent schools but the funding formula capped payments at $2 million per district, meaning that urban districts that disproportionately serve poor children and children of color would be discriminated against. (An insider estimates that the largest districts will only receive a $250 per pupil increase, which is ½ of what smaller districts will receive. Another insider reports that the bill, as it reads today, would mean the high-poverty Oklahoma City Public Schools System would receive less than 1/10th of what a smaller district could receive.) Fortunately, former Speaker of the House Steve Lewis predicts that such a formula would be overturned in court. 

Yes, McCall shifted $300 million in education funds away from vouchers to districts. But they then shifted $300 million in tax revenues to tax credits, which Nondoc correctly described as “slightly different than the education savings accounts — or school vouchers.” So, in describing their tax incentives for the rich without using the word voucher, the Speaker could benefit politically, while actually providing a system worse than some other voucher bills.

Steve Lewis explains why that is the case. He lists the tuition of top private schools: “Casady, $24,850; Bishop McGuinness $15,005 plus $1,195 in fees; Bishop Kelly, $9,845; Cascia Hall, $16,800; and Holland Hall, $21,449.” So, “one could argue that the $5,000 credit is not going to help many new students go to one of these schools. The credit is most likely a gift to people already sending their children to private schools.”  

The compromise bill also offers a political bailout to Stitt and Walters, which is understandable for Republicans serving their most powerful constituencies. Both bills reward the affluent, but won’t help poor families that will be losing Covid-era health and food services.

Not being a Republican insider, I’m not qualified to judge the education policy concessions that were made by pro-education Republicans. Given my bias towards optimism, I would note that those trade-offs enable push-back against Stitt’s unprecedented takeover of state agencies.  The World’s Carmen Forman reports, “Republican lawmakers want to reduce the number of appointments Stitt gets to the State Board of EducationVeterans Commission and the Turnpike Authority board — all governing bodies currently stacked with the governor’s appointees.” 

In order to defend public schools, the complete control of the Board of Education by non-educators and privatizers must be reversed. So, Reps. Baker, and Rep. McBride “would dilute the governor’s near-total control of the Oklahoma State Board of Education. It [their bill] cleared the House Common Education Committee, which Baker chairs, on a unanimous 9-0 vote with no discussion or debate.”

By the way, McBride said, “I hope the governor does not take this as a personal attack.” But he was more explicit in his effort to block Ryan Walter’s rule-making. As Foreman reports, “McBride said he doesn’t want Walters making administrative rules for the State Department of Education as a ‘knee-jerk reaction.’” And he’s challenging the Board’s power to downgrade a school system’s accreditation because Walters criticized their books.  

When McBride’s bill passed by a 10 to 1 votes, he spoke his mind: “we currently have a legitimate problem. I want to put this gentleman [Walters] in a box… focus on public education and not his crazy destruction of public education.” McBride also said explicitly, “Its fear mongering, I think …And teachers, librarians, superintendents, principals are in fear of what he might do.”

Moreover, regarding the other four state agency battles, “Rep. Danny Sterling cited recent drama related to some of the governor’s appointments to the Veterans Commission as a prime example of why changes are needed. And the attorney general recently said Stitt did not follow state law when appointing three members of the commission.” And recently, a district judge ruledthat Stitt’s Turnpike Authority did not follow the Open Meetings law when funding a $5 billion project. 

Also, Stitt’s other two longstanding scandals are still unfolding. Newly-elected Attorney General Gentner Drummond is taking over the investigation of the Tourism Department and the “Swadley’s deal that spurred a criminal probe, an audita state lawsuit and numerous questions about why the business appeared to be overpaid for its work.” 

The most recent, ongoing scandal was that, “Matt Stacy, who served as Gov. Kevin Stitt’s hospital surge plan adviser during the COVID-19 pandemic, was charged with 13 felony counts.” The World explained, “He was accused of paying residents to be ‘ghost owners’ of grow operations for Chinese organized crime operations and other out-of-state clients.”  This also should be another reminder of the death toll that resulted from the confusion prompted by Stitt moving the Health Center’s testing lab as Covid was surging.

So, there are serious problems with even the best House bill, but maybe resistance to it will press legislators to support Republican Sen. Adam Pugh’s excellent bill. It would cost less by investing in schools, while not giving into pressure to help the affluent, and not discriminating against the poor.

Moreover, the pro-education Republicans understand that school improvement is impossible without building trusting relationships. And that is impossible until Stitt and Walters stop spreading hate and falsehoods. I also expect they understand that our democracy is in danger, and we must fight back against rightwing lies. 

And, maybe more of the rest of their party will join them.

John Thompson sees some hopeful signs that educators and legistors—especially Republican legislators—are willing to speak out against the attacks on public schools. Perhaps they saw the recent poll that showed that 75% of the public is opposed to vouchers. Perhaps they read in one of my books that merit pay has repeatedly failed and that it discourages collaboration and teamwork.

He writes:

Oklahoma schools have faced a long history of ideology-driven attacks that produced a “culture of compliance” where educators learned to keep their heads low, and avoid being targets. The two biggest exceptions were the1990 teacher rally at the Capitol and the passage of HB 1017’s funding increases, and the 2018 teacher walkout. But today’s MAGA-driven assaults have put previous threats on steroids, seeking to cripple or destroy public education and other public services. After this year’s reelection of Gov. Kevin Stitt and State Superintendent Ryan Walters, a worst case scenario seemed to be unfolding. It now looks like brazen falsehoods being spread by corporate powers such as the Koch brothers and ALEC, and local MAGAs have energized a diverse, bipartisan coalition of truth tellers.

Frankly, I’ve never seen so many education supporters opening up like they have this February. And as the legislature convened, more and more allies of public education have begun to say what’s on their minds.

In his latest tantrum, Ryan Walters further spurred the pushback by threating the accreditation of the Oklahoma City and Putnam City school systems for making “a pornographic book called ‘Let’s Talk About It’” available to students. Both districts deny they have the book. Walters’ source was a rightwing social media account, “Libs of TikTok.”

The Tulsa World’s Ginnie Graham challenged Walters’ attacks on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), writing, “DEI is not a euphemism for race, affirmative action or critical race theory. It is not a liberal indoctrination to make white people feel shame. It is neither Marxism nor socialism.” Graham also explains that only 26% of Oklahomans have a bachelors degree, but within five years, “two-thirds of the top 100 critical professions will require a college degree.” And as Chancellor Allison Garrett explains, DEI is an essential tool for meeting that challenge.

The head of the Oklahoma City Public School Foundation, Mary Melon-Tully, editorialized in the Oklahoman, “A lot of the headlines and media attention have been focused on these divisive bills.” She then wrote in support of pro-education Republicans’ bills, like those of Sen. Adam Pugh and Rep. Rhonda Baker who have focused on “a multi-level pay raise,” paid maternity leave, creation of an Oklahoma Teacher Corps, mentoring, changes to the A-F report card, STEM preparedness, updating the funding formula, and better accountability for virtual and in-person charter schools, as well as “funding literacy instructional teams,” career-readiness, modernizing state graduation requirements, modifying the computer science curriculum, and “adding definition for English Language Learners.”

Similarly, Dr. Pam Deering wrote in the Oklahoman that it’s time to stop being “dominated by divisive culture war talking points,” [and] “focus on the true issues at hand.” Dr. Deering gave an overview of successes in schools, such as Lawton’s Life Ready Center, northwest Oklahoma’s High Plains Technology Center and Technical Applications Programs, Oklahoma City’s STEM academy, Norman’s Oklahoma Aviation Academy, and Sand Spring’s hybrid and virtual programs.”

Then the Stillwater News Press editorialized:

It would be nice to see the focus go to pumping more of that money into public schools, the ones that can’t refuse a child based on disability or who their parents are or how bad they are at basketball.

It would be good if the money wasn’t eventually going to be funneled to a for-profit lobbyist.

It would be great if the focus was on hiring and retention of dedicated teachers and staff.

As Walters pushes for pay-for-performance, the press has displayed a candor that previously would have usually been seen as too risky to articulate bluntly. For instance, the Enid News reported on the thoughts of Erika Wright, founder of the Oklahoma Rural Schools Coalition, who said, that the “politicizing a pay scale and a pay raise for teachers that are college-educated that are educating our children is ridiculous.” … “That is just an effort to add more divisiveness and inflammatory rhetoric.”

Bixby’s School Superintendent Rob Miller’s Tulsa World editorial was even blunter. He described teacher merit pay as “one of the more persistent and seemingly indestructible zombie ideas related to education.” It’s been “tried again and again since the 1920s.” And it’s only been 12 years since “the $12 billion merit pay experiment failed once more.” He also cited W. Edwards Deming, who “argued that merit pay ‘nourishes short-term performance, annihilates long-term planning, builds fear, demolishes teamwork, and nourishes rivalry and politics.’”

Our last pay-for-performance experiment, as was predicted, started by corrupting school data. Now, Miller adds, the teachers “who are supposed to reap the rewards” … “know that merit pay undermines collaboration and teamwork. They understand that it would corrupt the culture of their school.”

And it is especially encouraging that bipartisan collection of legislators, and Republicans like Sen. Dave Rader, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and Rep. Jeff Boatman, are making such thoughtful arguments against Walters’ and Stitt’s plans. The Tulsa World reports, Sen. Rader says “the state’s tax structure is being reviewed but that he feels no great urgency to make sudden, drastic changes. The state “is in a good position,” he said, with “a nice surplus and a relatively low tax burden.”

Moreover, Rep. Boatman “said there are ways to return value to taxpayers besides just cutting taxes.” He said, “Sure, there’s going to be some tax cuts,” but “there’s going to be some things we invest in through agencies and through services we do as a state. We can give money back that way.” Then Boatman suggested using some of the reserves to fund “some pretty incredible” community projects.

Finally, the Tulsa World’s Carmen Foreman reports, “House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, recently reiterated his opposition to school vouchers.” But she also reports, “House Republicans are expected to unveil an education plan that would expand school choice options in Oklahoma without vouchers.”

And, as Oklahoma Watch’s Jennifer Palmer explains, the Statewide Virtual Charter School Board “is set to consider a Catholic charter school this week in what is viewed as a national test case for publicly-funded religious education.”

Given Oklahoma’s Republican majority, and the unconscionable number of Republicans who have remained largely silent regarding the assaults on democracy and public institutions during the Trump era, our future requires more conservatives and Republicans to embrace the wisdom and values of their colleagues and other supporters who are making a stand for our schools. The future remains uncertain, it’s looking more likely that the legislature will come together and at least stop the most destructive rightwing campaigns.

This post is bombshell news. Send it to every legislator in Oklahoma.

The Tarrance Group is a Republican “strategic research and polling firm,” that helps elect Republican candidates. It was engaged by pro-voucher forces to find out how Oklahomans feel about vouchers. Its corporate sponsors include Betsy DeVos’ American Federation for Children, which is passionately devoted to vouchers.

The results produced by the pollsters must have been very disappointing to the funders. I don’t think this poll was released to the public.

The first poll was conducted March 3, 2022. It found that most people were opposed to vouchers. A second poll was conducted from November 28-December 1, 2022. It reported that opposition to vouchers had grown stronger.

This story should be national news.

The pollsters asked:

Do you favor or oppose using taxpayer dollars to fund private school tuition?

In March, 33% said they favor the proposition.

By December, support for vouchers had fallen to 24%.

In March, those opposing vouchers were 61%.

By December, the opposition had grown to 74%.

Three-quarters of Oklahomans oppose vouchers.

The next set of questions began:

Now I would like to read you a list of statements about using taxpayer dollars to fund private education. Please listen and tell me, for each one, whether knowing about this statement would make you more likely or less likely to support using taxpayer dollars to fund private school tuition.

Statement: These voucher programs mean there is less money available to maintain and improve our public schools.

The % who were “more likely” to support vouchers fell from 37% to 19% between March and December.

The % who were “less likely” to support vouchers grew from 52% in March to 74% in December.

Open the PDF. What is crystal clear is that the public opposes vouchers and their opposition is growing stronger, especially when they think that vouchers will hurt their local public schools.

No wonder that the worst enemy of vouchers is a public referendum.

Oklahoma State Superintendent Ryan Walters seems to have absorbed all his talking points from ALEC, the rightwing bill mill or he may just be trying to duplicate whatever Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is doing. All the talking points are there about critical race theory, “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” the “science of reading,” the fear of students turning transgender or being recognized as such, the readiness to censor anything that mentions sexuality or gender, and of course, vouchers for home schoolers and religious schools.

Superintendent Walters adds another item to his “reform” agenda: pay for performance, which has been tried for a century and never worked anywhere. It is hard to find an educational program that has been more thoroughly discredited, especially in the past dozen years. Performance these days equals test scores, and the teachers in the most affluent schools always come out in top, while those who teach the most vulnerable children are always on the bottom. No need to reinvent that broken wheel. Even Republican legislators know instinctively that “performance,” defined as test scores favors those in the whitest, most advantaged schools.

John Thompson, historian and former teacher, writes:

Last week, rightwing Oklahoma Secretary of Education Ryan Walters tried to “Shove ‘Choice’ Down the Throats of Unwilling Schools and Parents,” but he received serious pushback by influential Republicans for ignoring legislative norms in budget-making. This week, Walters’ revealed more of his plans to divide and conquer public schools, while ramping up the stakes for educators who don’t comply with ambiguous and weird mandates. The response by numerous Republicans, however, seems to indicate that a bipartisan effort against Walters’ and Gov. Kevin Stitt’s extremism is growing.

Walters started the Board of Education meeting, where his budget was presented with a prayer, which included a “reference to his school choice goals.” He then condemned “a loud and vocal crowd, a minority for sure, that say that all that is needed to fix the problems in education is to toss more money and to leave everything alone.” Walters then promised:

“There will be school choice. We will ensure that indoctrination and CRT (critical race theory) are eliminated in our state. We will also make sure that our kids are safe. There will be no boys in the girls bathrooms. There will be no pornography in our schools. We will make sure all of our vendors and the schools are focused on education and not diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Then, Walters met with rural superintendents in Atoka, the home of the Republican Speaker of the House Charles McCall, who has opposed voucher expansion. Walters explained that his “incentive pay plan that would reward a select few highly rated teachers in each school with up to $10,000 on top of their salaries.”

Walters then complained that:

“Tulsa has done so poor that if you took Tulsa Public Schools out of what we’re doing, we’re in the top half nationally. If you take Tulsa and OKC out, we’re in the top 15.”

So, the Tulsa World reported that Walters said:

“He would be open to pushing for Tulsa Public Schools to be broken up into smaller schools because of academic results there he says are dismal and parents who complain they are locked in because they can’t afford private school tuition and suburban schools bursting at the seams.”

At the same time, Walters’ allies are revealing more options for punishing educators who don’t comply with confusing mandates. While Walters seems to be backing off from his suggestion that all federal education funds be rejected, Sen. David Bullard filed a bill to “develop a ten-year plan to phase out the acceptance and use of federal funds for the support of K-12 education.” Sen. Shane Jett would “add seven more prohibited topics to House Bill 1775, which bans eight race and gender concepts from K-12 schools.” Jett and Rep. Terry O’Donnell seek to ban “teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity to elementary-age children,” And Jett “would outlaw any school policies that respect or promote ‘self-asserted sex-based identity narratives,’” as well as hosting “drag queen story time.”

Moreover, Sen. Cody Rogers “would prohibit school employees from calling students by names or pronouns that differ from the students’ birth certificates, unless having received written consent from the child’s parent.” Rep. Danny Williams would completely ban sex education from public schools.

Then, it was learned, Walters fired the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s Assistant general counsel Lori Murphy. The veteran attorney was “known for her support of transgender people and objections to the state’s rulemaking on classroom race and gender discussions.”

And the Tulsa World reported, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education responded to Walters’ “urgent request” to audit spending on diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, programs. The Regents, “scrambled hundreds of employees to compile a 10-year review of its spending history on and current materials used for … DEI programs.” They found that DEI spending was “a third of 1%” of the budget.

But, on the eve of submitting his budget to the legislature, Walters, as well as his ally Gov. Stitt, faced more bad news. As the Oklahoman reports, Attorney General Gentner Drummond, who defeated Stitt’s appointee, John O’Conner, announced an “investigation into misspent education funds” which “hung over the state Capitol on Wednesday.” As an investigation by Oklahoma Watch and The Frontier found, Connors’ lawsuit led “some critics to question whether the lawsuit was an honest attempt to recoup the funds.” Consequently, The Oklahoman reported, “some high-ranking lawmakers appeared hesitant to heed funding requests from Oklahoma’s new state superintendent because of his alleged part in the controversy.” The reason was it was “a mix of Walters’s and Gov. Kevin Stitt’s staff, not a state agency [that] was overseeing the program.”

The Republican Chair of the House Appropriations and Budget subcommittee for Education, Mark McBride, said (and Speaker Charles McCall confirmed) he had been authorized to investigate the lawsuit, and was wrong in not doing so. But now, as Nondoc reports, A.G. Drummond said he “would pursue accountability for state officials, potentially including Walters owing to his prior role as director of an organization tasked with dispersing the funds.” (for what it’s worth McCall, a likely candidate for governor, attended the budget presentation.)

The Tulsa World added that Stitt had blamed the parent company of ClassWallet for the “unflattering audit of federal pandemic relief funds under Stitt’s control.” But, the audit was critical of how the Stitt administration spent $31 million to provide pandemic relief for students’ educational needs.”

Nondoc further explained that Walters’ presentation to the committee “took the opportunity with some of the lawmakers’ questions to expound on campaign rhetoric, including addressing questions regarding his ‘liberal indoctrination’ comments and past declarations to get federal funding out of Oklahoma public education.” And, his two-point plan, funding “science of reading” and pay-for-performance, drew plenty of criticism.

Republican Rhonda Baker, chair of the Common Education Committee, told Walters, “We have, as a legislative body, voted on the science of reading.” She added, “We’ve been very supportive of that, and we have made sure that there has been funding for that, so none of that is new. What is challenging, though, … is that we are not keeping teachers.”

Moreover, Democrat Rep. Andy Fugate said Walters performance pay plan would backfire by drawing teachers away from high-challenge schools and finding schools where “it’s easiest to teach.” Similarly, McBride said:

“Merit pay, I’m OK with it if you work in the oil field or some industry, but in education I just don’t see it working. … If you’ve got a classroom of troubled youth, how do you compare that to the classroom over here where the teacher’s got all the A and B students? It’s just almost impossible to me to evaluate that.”

I’ve heard mixed appraisals as to whether Walters really believes his own words. Regardless, as his ideology-driven claims become more extreme, it seems more likely that there will be more bipartisan pushback against Walters, Stitt, and MAGA true-believers. And, who knows, maybe it will open the door to Republican Adam Pugh’s bill, based on discussions with hundreds of superintendents and education leaders and over a thousand educators, that “would spend $241 million on teacher pay raises, guarantee 12 weeks of maternity leave for teachers and offer $15 million in scholarships to future educators who pledge to work in high-poverty schools,” while bestowing respect on teachers.

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt wants voters to believe that his push for vouchers comes from the “grassroots.” Not true. The last time vouchers came to a vote in the legislature, they were defeated by Republicans, especially rural Republicans who understand the importance of their public school.

Ben Felder of The Oklahoman got copies of internal correspondence and learned that the voucher campaign is funded by the Walton Family Foundation and organizations created by Charles Koch.

Is Governor Stitt believes that the people of Iklahoma want vouchers, why doesn’t he put it to a vote? Why let out-of-state billionaires defund the already underfunded public schools of Oklahoma. Take it to the people! Let them decide!

Nuria Martinez-Keel wrote in The Oklahoman about the ouster of a state attorney who defied the state superintendent by supporting transgender people, whose numbers in the state must be minuscule. Since Republicans have decided that transgender people are a threat to national security, Lori Murphy had to go.

An attorney known for her support of transgender people and objections to the state’s rulemaking on classroom race and gender discussions was fired last week from the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

Assistant general counsel Lori Murphy worked at the agency for eight and a half years.

The Education Department terminated her employment “effective immediately” on Thursday, according to a letter to Murphy from the agency’s human resources office.

The letter did not cite a cause for her firing.

“I no longer speak for the agency (that’s what it means when you fire your lawyer), and I can’t speak to the reasoning for my termination,” Murphy wrote in a statement. “It was my honor to work my ass off on behalf of the students of Oklahoma from 2014 through January 26, 2023, a task I shared with hundreds of (Education Department) colleagues and thousands of school staff members across the state.”

New state schools Superintendent Ryan Walters is in the midst of orienting the Education Department toward his goals, one of which he said is ridding the agency and public schools of “liberal indoctrination.”

The department declined to explain the rationale for firing Murphy.

“The agency does not comment on the HR process or on personnel decisions,” spokesperson Matt Langston told The Oklahoman on Monday.

Four days after swearing in as state superintendent, Walters exempted Murphy’s position from a section of Oklahoma law that would have otherwise allowed her to file a complaint over termination, according to a human resources letter sent to Murphy on Jan. 13, which The Oklahoman also obtained.

Heads of state agencies are allowed to do so for no more than 5% of their employees.

“Just as public education serves everyone, public education builds from the truth that everyone can learn and grow when provided with the educational services and supports they need,” Murphy wrote in her statement. “From our 4-year-olds entering Oklahoma’s nationally recognized public preschool programs for the first time, to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.”

For more than two years, Murphy has worn masks that read “Trans Ally” or “Black Lives Matter” while attending monthly meetings of the Oklahoma State Board of Education. She wore a “Trans Ally” mask again at a state board meeting on Thursday.

Walters was a champion of legislation regulating transgender students’ use of school bathrooms by birth sex rather than by gender identity.

As the state Board of Education deliberated how to give teeth to House Bill 1775, Murphy objected to the board members’ handling of the process. She resigned from her role overseeing administrative rulemaking for the board, though she continued as an assistant general counsel for the state agency.

The state board ultimately approved rules that allowed it to demote a school district’s accreditation and suspend or revoke an educator’s certification over violations of HB 1775, a 2021 law that bans schools from teaching certain race and gender concepts, such as a person should feel guilt on account of their race or sex.

Although Murphy suggested rules that mostly restated the text of the law, the board opted for a rulemaking process she said operated “far outside the reach of previous emergency rule actions” and wrongly excluded public comment, according to internal emails The Oklahoman obtained at the time.

“Quite literally, I cannot sign my name to this action,” Murphy wrote to the board.

Although it did not collect public comment before approval of the temporary rules, the Education Department did so before the agency regulations became permanent.

Recently, Walters said he instructed his staff to investigate two teachers he accused of indoctrinating students. Both teachers have spoken against HB 1775.

Walters was referring to Tulsa Public Schools teacher Tyler Wrynn and former Norman High School teacher Summer Boismier. He has called for both of their teaching certificates to be revoked.

“I, as the state superintendent and the Department of Education, will do everything within our power to not allow our kids to be indoctrinated by far-left radicals and to hold those accountable who have done so,” Walters said in a video posted to social media.

Wrynn was captured in an edited video identifying himself as an anarchist who wants to “burn down the whole system,” beliefs he said he had to hide because of HB 1775.

Boismier made national news when she posted a QR code link in her classroom to the Brooklyn Public Library’s collection of banned books. She resigned from Norman Public Schools in opposition to HB 1775 and has since moved to New York to accept a position with the Brooklyn library.

“I feel like I cannot do my job and follow that law at the same time,” Boismier said in an August interview with The Oklahoman. “It puts teachers in an impossible position. It forces educators to commit educational malpractice in order to keep our jobs.”


Reporter Nuria Martinez-Keel covers K-12 and higher education throughout the state of Oklahoma.

John Thompson, a retired teacher and historian in Oklahoma, has written frequently about events in his state for this blog. Here, he describes the political coercion that determined right-wingers are promoting in Oklahoma and calling it “choice.” From his description, some Republican legislators are worried about “liberal indoctrination,” transgender students using the “wrong” bathroom, litter boxes for children who think they are cats (this seems to be a QAnon idea), and the danger of “social-emotional learning.” Apparently students in Oklahoma have no social or emotional issues.

Ryan Walters, Oklahoma’s newly elected, extreme rightwing Secretary of Education, first says that “the state should have the ‘most comprehensive school choice in the country.’” Secondly, Walters pushes the rightwing Michigan-based Hillsdale College curriculum; he doesn’t want to allow schools to choose to retain research-based curriculums that he identifies as “liberal indoctrination.” As Clark Frailey, executive director of Pastors for Oklahoma Kids, says, Walters seems to be pushing for “Christian Dominionism,” which is “based on the philosophy that Christianity is at the core of America’s foundation and all institutions need to align with that viewpoint. If people won’t convert, then a government religion must be forced upon them.”

Two voucher programs for private schools and homeschools have been filed. The most interesting one is Sen. Shane Jett’s Oklahoma Parent Empowerment Act for Kids (PEAK). Even extremely conservative Republicans legislators worry that vouchers would undermine the finances of their rural schools. Jett seems to be offering a carrot and a stick to those vulnerable constituencies. He would impose vouchers only in counties with a population of more than 10,000 people. But, vouchers would be offered in counties with fewer than 10,000 residents if they are served by a “trigger district.”

The Oklahoman then reports:

Jett defined a “trigger district” as a public school system that allows or tolerates House Bill 1775 violations, use of school bathrooms according to gender identity, anthropomorphic behavior known as “furries,” disparagement of the oil and gas industry, lesson plans promoting social-emotional learning and animal rights activism, among other topics.

In other words, the bill would coerce schools into “choosing” to comply with the entire extremist agenda. But that begs the question about how educators would choose to deal with today’s threats to public education. Republican Sen. Adam Pugh’s newly revealed plan for school improvement was based on meetings with 200 public school superintendents; every college president in Oklahoma; and “hundreds, if not thousands” teachers and parents and advocacy groups.  Based on these listening sessions, Pugh did not propose vouchers.

Pugh’s plan would raise teacher pay so the minimum starting salary was $40,000, “with graduated raises to the minimum salary schedule based on longevity.” The estimated cost would be $241 million, which is less than the cost of Sen. Julie Daniels’ voucher bill ($275 million). They would  also create an “Oklahoma Teacher Corps” and a teacher mentoring system;  provide certain teachers at least 12 weeks of maternity leave; update the school funding formula, and pass Pugh’s seven other constructive reforms. 

As Pugh explained, “I hope this plan will demonstrate to teachers that we’re serious about the work that you do, and we appreciate how you pour your heart and your soul into educating kids, as we need you to stay in the classroom, and we need more of you.”

But, the Stillwater News Press offers an equally important response:

While that offers us a bit of a sigh of relief, Oklahomans should be aware that the push [to] move taxpayer money into private schools isn’t going anywhere. It’s a well-funded campaign and the state’s administrators and board members have been handpicked to make that a top priority.

I’m afraid I agree with the Stillwater News. Pugh’s bills raise hope. But Oklahoma Republicans will continue to coerce schools into compliance with their extremist privatization and Christian Dominionism ideologies – and call it “choice.”

On the other hand, more Republicans sound like they are getting fed up by Walters and his minions. This week, the Secretary of Education was supposed to present a budget to a legislative subcommittee for planning purposes, but a letter obtained by the Tulsa World shows that Walters seems to be prioritizing “ridding public education of ‘liberal indoctrination.’” Walters’ “spokesman” said he “has requested additional information on diversity, equity, inclusion programs (DEI) to fully understand the extent of indoctrination happening in higher education.”

The letter said:

Please provide a full outline and review of every dollar that has been spent over the last 10 years on diversity, equity, inclusion. Additionally, I want an overview of your staffing and the colleges underneath your oversight as the Chancellor of Oklahoma Higher Regents within every DEI program … and expenditures,” Walters wrote on letterhead of the Office of the Secretary of Education. “Lastly, please provide a copy of the materials that are being used in any of these programs.”

Neither has Walters followed legislative norms for presenting a public education budget. As Nondoc reported, Walters said he instituted a hiring freeze and a spending freeze for the State Department of Education when he took office and all related decisions require his approval. And, in addition to demanding vouchers, he has insisted on any teacher pay raise being performance-based. Above all, Walters said he would be bringing a completely different budget than the one his predecessor drafted. 

Republican Toni Hasenbeck (R-Elgin) responded saying, “district superintendents had expressed concern for ‘the next four years’” because of Walters’ campaign comments. Rep. Dell Kerbs, (R-Shawnee) commented, “I don’t need elevator speeches. I need details.” Subcommittee Chairman Mark McBride (R-Moore) understood the argument that performance pay could be a part of teacher pay, but he said that Walters’ plan went too far. And then he tried to get Walters back to the normative procedures which the subcommittee follows for helping craft funding priorities.

McBride “interrupted Walters,” and asked, “Are you saying the budget will totally change — you’re presenting a budget that’s not going to be the same budget, and you’re going to totally change it?”

Nondoc reported that “McBride seemed confused and paused for a moment.” When Walters tried to change the subject, [McBride] interrupted him and asked why Walters was presenting a budget that would not exist in a week. Walters again changed the subject and, as Nondoc reported, “McBride interrupted him again, asking him to stay on topic presenting monetary figures rather than discussing policy and slipping into “campaign rhetoric.” McBride said, “With all due respect, I need the performance review for last year. That’s what you’re here to present.” Then, after that interruption, Walters stopped his presentation.

 After the meeting, Matt Langston, Walters’s “spokesman” (a paid GOP consultant based in Texas) said, “Not one person in Oklahoma is surprised that Democrats are unhappy with the political theater that was orchestrated today.” According to Langston:

They do not want transparency, accountability or even basic reform because they are used to playing in the shadows. Union bosses, whining and liberal tears will not stop education reform, and the superintendent is looking forward to next week’s actual budget hearing.

Stay tuned! When Walters reveals his budget, chaos and vitriol will increase, and we’ll see whether Walters really believes he can implement his promise or “suggestion,” that “received some pushback from lawmakers in 2022,” a ten-year plan to reject all federal spending on education

We saw this coming. The charter movement, widely praised in the press, opened the door to school choice and consumerism. Now, as we see in Oklahoma, the state may soon have its first Catholic school charter. When the charter movement started, it promised that charter schools would be innovative, accountable, cost less than public schools and be transparent. As we have repeatedly seen, charter schools are not innovative, avoid accountability, demand the same or greater funding than public schools, and are not transparent.

Oklahoma shows where the charter movement is heading: charter schools are becoming a pathway to vouchers.

A Catholic charter school funded by taxpayer dollars is likely coming to Oklahoma soon, based on a recent ruling of the state’s outing attorney general, with support from the re-elected governor and off newly elected state superintendent of public education.

For decades, Baptists have fought against public funding of parochial schools of all kinds, but a recent series of rulings by the United States Supreme Court appears to have opened the door to that very reality. And Oklahoma’s strongly Republican leaders appear ready to walk through that door.

John O’Connor

On Dec. 1, Attorney General John O’Connor — who is Catholic — and Solicitor General Zach West wrote a non-binding legal opinion that says a current state law blocking religious institutions and private sectarian schools from state funding of public charter school programs is unconstitutional and should not be enforced.

Already, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Oklahoma City “states it is willing to adhere to every jot and tittle of state law and intends to apply for a charter,” reported Andrew Spiropoulos, the Robert S. Kerr Professor of Constitutional Law at Oklahoma City University and the Milton Friedman Distinguished Fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

That means for the first time, government funding for public schools could also flow to Catholic schools and other faith-based schools.

And that’s not good news to Charles Foster Johnson, who helped found the group Pastors for Oklahoma Kids.

“It’s perfectly fine for those Oklahoma charter schools to become religious schools if they no longer receive public tax dollars from the people of Oklahoma,” he said. “But the last thing the devout religious folks of Oklahoma need is for their state to entangle itself in the establishment of religion through the funding of religious schools masquerading as public charter schools. All true religion, whether in congregation or class room, is voluntary and free. It must remain unencumbered by state intrusion.”

Charles Foster Johnson

Pastors for Texas Kids has noted that Oklahoma ranks 48th in the nation for per-student spending on public education. The state’s public schools serve 703,650 students, accounting for 93% of the school-age population.

For years, charter friends and charter foes have debated whether charter schools are public schools and whether they are, like public schools, “state actors.” The lame-duck Attorney General of Oklahoma recently declared that religious schools could be charter schools. He seems to believe that privately managed charter schools are not public schools, because no one claims that religious schools are public schools. His opinion does not have the force of law, but you can see that Oklahoma is eager to give public money to religious schools.

The AG’s opinion raises many questions. If charter schools are religious schools, may they limit admission only to members of their faith? May they exclude gay students, teachers, and families? May they substitute religious books for the state textbooks? May they indoctrinate their students into their faith? If charter schools are religious schools, how do they differ from voucher schools? What state regulations apply to them, if any?

Peter Greene writes about the issue here:

The Supreme Court has slowly and steadily busted a hole in the wall between church and state when it comes to education. AG opinion: Statute barring charter school operators from religious affiliation unconstitutional (

In a fifteen-page opinion issued December 1, Attorney General John O’Connor argued that in the wake of Trinity Lutheran, Espinoza, and Carson, he believed that SCOTUS would “very likely” find Oklahoma’s charter law restriction on nonsectarian or religious charters unconstitutional. Therefore, his opinion is that the state should no longer follow the law forbidding sectarian or religious charter schools.

Each of those cases elevated the free exercise clause of the First Amendment over the establishment clause. In other words, the court has repeatedly (and in a break from previous court decisions) found that the free exercise of religious beliefs outweighs any restrictions against government-sponsored religious activity.

Carson v. Makin in particular established that if the state allows for taxpayer funding of any non-public secular schools, it cannot exclude religious schools from the chance to receive taxpayer funding. While Carson involved school vouchers and private schools, observers like Kevin Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder’s School of Education, noted that in light of these three decisions, “states will probably be forced to let churches and other religious institutions apply for charters and operate charter schools.”

While charter schools have often been considered public schools (at least part of the time), the extension of free-exercise protections, as Welner wrote after the prior decision, complicate the issue.

If courts side with a church-run charter school, finding that state attempts to restrict religiously infused teachings and practices at the school are an infringement on the church’s free-exercise rights, then the circle is complete: Charter school laws have become voucher laws.

Justice Sotomayor, when dissenting on Carson, noted that

“in just a few years, the Court has upended constitutional doctrine, shifting from a rule that permits States to decline to fund religious organizations to one that requires States in many circumstances to subsidize religious indoctrination with taxpayer dollars.”

Given the previous decisions, an attempt by charter supporters to extend religion to charter schools was probably inevitable.

Charter supporters, including Governor Kevin Sitt and State Superintendent of Public Instruction-elect Ryan Walters praised the decision. Officials of the Catholic Church in Oklahoma, the church likely to go after the taxpayer funding made available by this opinion (there are reports that they have an application for a Catholic virtual charter school ready to go), also praised the decision, as did officials of the American Federation for Children, the pro-privatization group with connections to Betsy DeVos.

The potential complications are many. If the taxpayers of Oklahoma are going to be compelled to fund religious charter schools, which religions will qualify for those dollars, and who will decide?

Oklahoma law designates charters as public schools, but how much discrimination in the name of religious exercise will the state allow? O’Connor argues that charges of discrimination can only be brought against state actors, and “actions taken by charters are unlikely to fit this bill.” So are charter schools public schools or not, and to what degree should taxpayers be forced to fund schools that exist in some sort of fuzzy grey law-free zone?

AG John O’Connor was a Trump nominee for a United States district judge in 2018; the American Bar Association rated him “not qualified,” and his nomination was withdrawn. After Oklahoma’s previous attorney general resigned in May of 2021 over “personal matters,” Governor Stitt appointed O’Connor to the office. O’Connor ran for the office this year and was defeated in the primary, making him a lame duck in the office.

An opinion such a this does not carry the weight of law, and it is possible that the matter will be tested in court. But given the foundation laid by the Supreme Court, it takes no great stretch to reach the conclusion that O’Connor did. They ripped the hole in the wall; he just walked through it.