© 2024 KOSU
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Walters sets up committee to protect prayer in schools, ridicules Oklahoma colleges for ideologies on campus

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.

State Superintendent Ryan Walters wants to establish a committee to help protect Christianity in public schools and questioned the value of sending Oklahoma students to the state’s colleges Thursday.

The two moves came during a State Board of Education meeting Thursday, which he has begun leading with a prayer.

Walters announced the formation of two blue-ribbon committees. One committee will be a general teacher advisory committee. The other will “advise and recommend guidance to local school systems on how to protect every student and parents’ freedom to worship.”

Walters said he put together the committee because of a letter signed by faith leaders as well as the president of the lobbying group, the Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee.

“A letter that I received from religious and community leaders asking that I take a deep look at prayer in school and the role of faith in our K-12 schools,” he said.

Notably, none of the faith leaders espouse a religion other than Christianity, and one of the six represented organizations is founded on Christian nationalism.

Since 1962, students have been legally protected to pray privately at public schools and join after-hours religious clubs.

Ideologies on campus

In the same meeting, Walters questioned if students should be attending Oklahoma colleges because of ideologies they may come across on campus.

“I have great concerns about our state universities,” he said. “Are they doing the role that’s properly necessary for our young people? Are they setting up our young people to be successful in the workforce, or are they worried about ideology? Makes me question whether we should continue to be recommending young people go into these universities.”

The comments come after Walters requested an accounting of all money spent by Oklahoma colleges on diversity initiatives.

That review by Oklahoma’s Regents for Higher Education found the state’s colleges had $10.2 million budgeted for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion activities in the current fiscal year. The state contributed $3.7 million to those efforts.

Overall, the amounts are equal to 0.29% of higher education spending and 0.11% of state expenditures on higher ed.

Soon after the meeting, Republican Representatives Rhonda Baker, Mark McBride and Anthony Moore issued a statement condemning the superintendent’s comments, clarifying he has no authority over universities and colleges — which are overseen by the State Regents.

“We implore the state superintendent to focus on the job he was elected to do, which includes supporting increased outcomes for the children and the educators in our pre-K through 12 classrooms,” they said in a joint statement.

The representatives all chair education-related committees.

'Crazy destruction of public education'

Earlier in the week, McBride introduced a bill in the House Common Education committee that would give the legislature more oversight on the State Board of Education.

The bill came on the heels of Walters proposing a new State Board of Education rule last week that would, among other things, require school employees to disclose to parents any "material changes" related to a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It would also require schools to remove any sex or sexuality education materials if there’s a parent objection. Schools found in violation could have their accreditation downgraded.

House Bill 2569 would issue a moratorium on new rules like these and require specific legislative statutory authorization to implement them.

"I want to put this gentleman in a box," said McBride. "I want to focus on public education instead of his crazy destruction of public education."

The bill passed by a vote of 10 to 1, and can now be heard on the House floor.

In a press conference Friday, Gov. Kevin Stitt addressed a question about Walters’ actions. Walters is elected as state superintendent and also appointed as a member of Stitt’s cabinet as Education Secretary. He draws two salaries for the positions.

“I support Ryan Walters,” Stitt said. “I support everybody on my cabinet and I want them aligned with my vision… But do I approve press statements or what everybody says? No. You’ve got to realize there are 30,000 employees, and you have lieutenants out there who are working and moving forward.”

* indicates required

Beth Wallis is StateImpact Oklahoma's education reporter.
Robby Korth joined KOSU as its news director in November 2022.
KOSU is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.
Related Content