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Diversity, equity and inclusion programs under scrutiny by Oklahoma officials

State Superintendent Ryan Walters presents his education budget proposal at his first meeting as superintendent, January 2023.
Beth Wallis
StateImpact Oklahoma
State Superintendent Ryan Walters presents his education budget proposal at his first meeting as superintendent, January 2023.

Oklahoma lawmakers have authored at least five bills this legislative session to limit diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives in education. The measures aim to limit political testing, amending parental rights and report spending in higher education programs.

Diversity, equity and inclusion programs are designed to promote acceptance of people of different backgrounds. This can refer to races and ethnicities, genders, religions and beliefs, ages, abilities and disabilities, sexual orientations and people with diverse viewpoints and experiences. Oklahoma State Universitydescribes diversity as a “quality of life issue, as well as an important economic driver for the prosperity and well-being of the state, nation, and world.”

Senate Bill 870 by Sen. David Bullard (R-Durant) aims to prohibit funding or endorsement of any office that promotes, sponsors or supports DEI initiatives at higher education institutions. Senate Bill 9, also by Bullard, would require an itemized report of expenditures for the previous fiscal year, related to addressing or improving diversity, inclusion, equity, or social justice at K-12 public school districts.

Authored by Sen. Shane Jett (R- Shawnee), Senate Bill 1008 would prohibit any “political testing,” relating to admission into or promotion within certain institutions of higher education. Senate Bill 1011 would direct each institution within certain systems to report spending in higher education programs.

Authored by Rep. Danny Williams (R-Seminole), House Bill 1781 would be cited as the “parents bill of rights.” Aiming to provide parents with the fundamental right to direct the upbringing, education, health care and mental care of their children.

The bills come amid criticism of DEI work by Oklahoma’s top education official, State Superintendent and Secretary of Education Ryan Walters. Walters called for a 10-year review of all expenditures related to DEI over the last decade at Oklahoma higher education institutions last month.

Since then, Oklahoma universities have scrambled to collect the information, which shows fewer than 0.5% of the state’s hundreds of millions of dollars worth of appropriations go toward DEI programs, according to reporting first by theTulsa World.

“We will ensure that indoctrination and CRT 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,” Walters said at a State Board of Education meeting in January.

Following Walters' budget presentation to the legislature, he stated his top priority is ridding public education of “liberal indoctrination,” during his first weeks in office. This could include changes for the nearly 400 people who work at the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

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Cheyenne Leach is KOSU's news intern.
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