Ryan Walters, Governor Kevin Stitt’s education secretary, won the Republican primary runoff for superintendent of public schools on Tuesday with 53% of the vote for Oklahoma’s top education office.
With 99% of the precincts counted, Shawnee Public Schools Superintendent April Grace won 47% of the vote.
“What we’ve seen tonight is a mandate from Oklahoma voters: Governor Stitt’s vision for education and school choice will come to fruition in the state of Oklahoma,” Walters said. at an election watch party on Tuesday night.
Walters directed Grace in the June 28 primary election 41% to 31%.
In a state with nearly twice as many registered Republicans as Democrats, the GOP nominee will be the frontrunner in the Nov. 8 general election against Jena Nelson, Democratic Candidate and Former Oklahoma Teacher of the Year.
Ryan Walters denounces ‘leftist indoctrination’ in Oklahoma classrooms
Walters, 37 years old, put social issues at the forefront of the race. Eliminating perceived “woke ideology” was a cornerstone of the platform for Walters, a high school history teacher, member of the governor’s cabinet and executive director of the pro-school choice organization Every Kid Counts Oklahoma. .
“Funding is not our biggest problem in education,” Walters said. “Our biggest problem is to remove left-wing indoctrination from the classroom, to empower parents to have more school choices and to ensure that the best and brightest teachers are rewarded. and empowered to succeed.”
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Many educators have backed Grace, calling her the most qualified candidate to succeed Public Schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, whose term is limited this year.
Grace, 56, said as superintendent she would focus on students’ academic recovery after the pandemic, shift the focus from year-end state testing to gradual growth throughout the school year and would aim to restore Oklahoma’s teaching staff.
“That’s what I see in the classrooms, it’s the teachers doing their best to advance the students academically,” Grace said. “There’s no one out there who wants to indoctrinate children, and that’s certainly not the primary goal of educators.”
Grace has worked in Oklahoma schools for the past 30 years as a teacher, coach and school administrator. She was named Superintendent of Shawnee Schools in 2016 and Oklahoma Administrator of the Year in 2021.
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Along with the governor, Walters argued for a failed bill that reportedly spent $128.5 million to pay private school fees for students. Grace opposed the legislation, saying it had too few safeguards to ensure the proper use of taxpayer funds.
Walters was a leading voice against allowing transgender students to play sports and use the school toilets that match their gender identity — which are now banned from public schools in Oklahoma. He supported demotion of accreditation for school districts who violate the House Bill 1775, a state law limit discussions at school on certain topics related to race and gender.
Lately, Walters has proposed eliminating federal funding for Oklahoma’s public schools.
Federal allocations and grants provided about $921 million to Oklahoma schools in fiscal year 2022, not including COVID-19 relief funds, according to the state Department of Education. Oklahoma.
These dollars go towards school meals, support for poor students and special education, among many other programs. They also require schools to follow civil rights laws and hold annual academic tests.
Walters said he would not seek to replace federal funds with state dollars. Rather, he said Oklahoma should be more efficient with its current state funding levels and spend less on school administration.
“The federal government has no place in our education system,” Walters said. “I want us to move away from federal funding and wean ourselves off federal dollars and empower Oklahomans to have more of a say in what our education system looks like.”
Federal dollars support many school needs, including special education, cafeteria meals, and pre-K programs.
“It continues to highlight (Walters’) lack of experience and lack of understanding related to anything in Oklahoma public schools,” Grace said. “He literally has no idea what he’s talking about.”
The state superintendent serves as the head of the Oklahoma State Department of Education and chair of the Oklahoma State Board of Education.
Two members of the state Board of Education, Brian Bobek and Jennifer Monies, donated to Walters’ campaign ahead of the June 28 primary election. The governor appointed all of the state board members except Hofmeister.
Many of Walters’ campaign contributions came from the Oklahoma business community, according to campaign finance records. Former State Superintendent Janet Barresi and Trump Administration Education Secretary Betsy DeVos also donated to Walters.
Both Grace and Walters have faced controversy during their campaigns.
Grace has come under fire for being a former basketball coach and assistant athletic director for the Shawnee Boys charged with a felony for sexting a teenager. Ronald Gene Arthur resigned from Shawnee on September 3 after being investigated.
Federal audit found program under Walters’ watch was plagued by misuse of pandemic relief funds. The US Department of Education has reported that recipients of the Bridge the Gap digital wallet wrongly spent $650,000 intended for children’s educational needs. Walters helped oversee the program even before he was appointed education secretary in September 2020, listeners reported.
Walters said the fault lies with ClassWallet, the Oklahoma company contracted to disburse the funds. ClassWallet denied the allegation.
Contributor: Addison Kliewer
Journalist Nuria Martinez-Keel covers K-12 and higher education statewide in Oklahoma. Do you have a story idea for Nuria? She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @NuriaMKeel. Support Nuria’s work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today at subscribe.oklahoman.com.
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Ryan Walters Wins GOP Nomination for Superintendent of Oklahoma Schools